The freshman class for Maryland men’s basketball might be one of its most talented in recent memory. And Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo is already winning over teammates and coaches.
But at the core of the 2023-24 Terps team is a trio of returners of whom much will be expected. Two fifth-year seniors, point guard Jahmir Young and small forward Donta Scott, and junior power forward Julian Reese are the foundation upon which coach Kevin Willard has tried to build in his second year with the program, and they are fully aware of the bar they have to meet.
“We just try to lead by example,” Scott said during the team’s media day on Oct. 17. “We really get out there and just try to go hard every day and show these guys that you can’t take too many plays off because when it comes down to certain games, if you take that one play off, that could be the difference in the game. Just try to lead a lot by being very vocal, and I’m one of the more vocal leaders in the group. I try to get them to communicate, too, and everybody steps up and talks.”
Scott, Young and Reese (and to some extent, senior point guard Jahari Long) are the primary holdovers from last season’s squad that exceeded preseason voting that had it finishing 10th in the Big Ten Conference by tying with three others for fifth in the league. Along the way, Maryland (22-13, 11-9) won a school-record 13 consecutive league games at Xfinity Center en route to a 16-1 mark at home and earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps edged No. 9 seed West Virginia, 67-65, in the first round before falling to overall top seed Alabama, 73-51, in Birmingham, Alabama.
In the offseason, two starters left with shooting guards Hakim Hart transferring to Villanova and Don Carey graduating. Six more contributors also departed, including shooting guards Ian Martinez (who transferred to Utah State) and Ike Cornish (Ohio), small forward Pavlo Dziuba (High Point), and power forward Arnaud Revaz (Weber State).
Maryland’s freshmen class, which consists of shooting guard Jahanthan Lamothe (St. Frances), point guard DeShawn Harris-Smith, small forward Jamie Kaiser Jr. and center Braden Pierce, was ranked No. 15 in the nation and has drawn rave reviews from Willard for their physicality. Geronimo, a redshirt junior forward, has also caught Willard’s eye for displaying the kind of offensive and defensive versatility that coaches crave.
But Young acknowledged that he, Scott and Reese (St. Frances) have to harness the newcomers’ energy and help them run what Willard wants to do on the floor.
“We have a lot of talented young guys coming, but we have the core coming back with me, Ju and Donta,” he said. “So for us to lead these young guys, it’s going to be important, especially for us to win down the stretch, win on the road. In order for us to be successful, we have to lead this team.”
Willard said he thinks Young is poised to lead the way. After pacing the Terps in points, assists and steals last season in his first foray into Big Ten competition, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Young should be more prepared for the rigors of the league in his second go-around.
“I think the biggest jump will come from Jahmir just in the fact that I think he’ll understand the league so much better,” Willard said. “He understands how we’re playing. He understands the system so much better. I think he’s thinking like a point guard now where last year, he was really just trying to survive. That tells you how good of a player he is with the year he had.”
Willard said the 6-8, 230-pound Scott could join Young at the forefront of the team’s push. While quipping that Scott passed a math course required for graduation and can concentrate on basketball, Willard said Scott — who ranked second on last year’s team in rebounds, third in assists and fourth in points — has been enjoying a dominant preseason and flying under the radar.
“He’s not getting talked about enough, he’s not getting enough credit,” he said. “Everyone’s talking about Jahmir and Julian for good reasons, but Donta Scott’s had a great offseason. I think he’s poised to really have a breakout season as a senior.”
Maryland added some much-needed bulk in the frontcourt with the 7-foot, 230-pound Pierce and 6-11, 195-pound sophomore power forward Mady Traore, a New Mexico State transfer. But Willard doesn’t have any plans to shift the 6-9, 230-pound Reese from his traditional spot in opponents’ paint.
“Julian’s Julian,” he said. “He’s going to kick everyone’s [butt] and just go at it. That’s what Julian does, and that’s why I love him.”
Geronimo, who averaged 4.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 27 games (including six starts) last year at Indiana, said he has leaned on Reese, Scott and Young to ease his transition to the Terps.
“It’s been great, especially personally for me because I’m trying to come in and help right away and Ju and Tay have done a really good job,” he said. “And Jahmir and other people like Jahari, they just try to show me the ropes, letting me know what’s going on to maneuver through life.”
Here are other observations from media day:
Willard confirmed that he has not had the team practice beyond 90 minutes because the sessions have been so physical. He wants to avoid any unnecessary injuries before the season starts but has developed an appreciation for how competitive the players have been.
“It goes back to the freshmen being able to compete,” he said. “Sometimes when you bring as many new guys we brought in, you kind of have to go longer to get as much stuff in. But these young guys can compete with these old guys.”
Freshman hype is real
Harris-Smith already has lived up to his billing as the No. 26 player nationally. Willard described the 6-5, 215-pound Harris-Smith as “the best freshman I’ve ever had.”
“He’s the most competitive person I’ve been around, and that’s a great skill set,” Willard said. “He doesn’t want to lose, he brings it every day, and it’s a rarity in today’s kids.”
Reviving Georgetown rivalry
Willard confirmed that he has been discussing with new Georgetown coach Ed Cooley resuming the Terps-Hoyas series that has been dormant since Nov. 15, 2016.
“We’re close,” said Willard, who knows Cooley from their days in the Big East when the former coached at Seton Hall and the latter coached at Providence. “Ed’s a really good friend, and I understand for the fan bases how important that game is for this area. I get it, he gets it. We were going to start it this year, and it was done, and it was a date thing. It was our date. I couldn’t find a date. So next year, I’m pretty confident that we’ll start.”
Mount St. Mary’s at Maryland
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