When the Maryland men's basketball season ended a little more than two weeks ago in Louisville, Ky., with a Sweet 16 loss to Kansas, Mark Turgeon was hoping the Terps might get back a couple of their starters with eligibility remaining after the team fell well short of its goal of winning a national championship.
Now a team that many considered one of the early-season favorites to reach the 2016 Final Four will go into next season having to replace at least four starters and, quite possibly, its entire starting lineup after Monday's decisions by center Diamond Stone and point guard Melo Trimble.
A week after Bob Stone said that a report of his son's leaving school after one season was premature, Maryland announced that the 6-foot-11, 260-pound freshman was planning on turning pro and had signed with an agent. The school also announced that Trimble, a sophomore, would explore the NBA draft without signing with an agent.
They joined redshirt junior forward Robert Carter Jr., who announced last week that he was forgoing his senior year to turn pro. The team's two other starters, forward Jake Layman and guard Rasheed Sulaimon, were seniors. Layman will graduate next month and Sulaimon played last season as a graduate transfer.
Despite last week's denials by the elder Stone that his son had made up his mind, Monday's announcement did not come as a surprise. Diamond Stone was considered by many to be a one-and-done player when he first arrived in College Park last summer and is thought to be a consensus first-round draft pick.
“I want to thank the University of Maryland and Coach Turgeon for an unbelievable experience this past year,” Stone said in a statement released by the athletic department. “Coach Turgeon really pushed me to get better each and every day.
“My family and I spent a great deal of time discussing my future and we felt this was the best decision as I pursue my dream of playing professional basketball. I want to also thank all of the Terp fans and the students on campus who have been very supportive since the day I arrived to College Park. It means a great deal to me. I'll always be a Terp for life.”
It was later announced that Stone had signed with Tandem Sports and Entertainment, a Northern Virginia-based management company.
In a statement, Turgeon said, “When we first met with Diamond and his family, one of our goals was to help him achieve his dream of playing in the NBA. Diamond has always been a very skilled and talented offensive player, but he worked hard in other facets of his game this past year. He has vastly improved his strength and conditioning and has made strides defensively. This will be beneficial as Diamond pursues a career in professional basketball. We are happy for Diamond and wish both him and his family the very best.”
Stone was named the Big Ten's Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press after averaging 12.5 points — the second-highest scoring average on the 27-9 Terps, behind Trimble — along with 5.6 rebounds (second behind Carter) and a team-high 1.6 blocked shots despite playing only 22.6 minutes per game. Along with shooting 56.8 percent from the field, Stone set a school record for most points in a game by a freshman (39) as well a single-game mark for most free throws (19) and free throw attempts (25), all against Penn State.
Former Maryland All-American Len Elmore, a longtime college basketball analyst who played more than a decade in the old American Basketball Association and the NBA, said, “Diamond's decision in my mind, is unfortunate in that he could probably stand to get more experience on the college level and sharpen his fundamentals.
“Really next year he would have gotten a chance to play a bigger role offensively and really get comfortable recognizing defenses and being able to be more of a rim protector,” Elmore continued. “On the next level, I don't know how much they're going to work with him. I don't want him to turn into an Alex Len, who is going to make money and stay in the league but is never going to reach his potential because he didn't have enough experience on the college level.”
Trimble, who was first-team all-Big Ten as a freshman and second-team last season, led the Terps in scoring in each of his first two years, averaging 15.5 points per game and becoming the first Maryland player since Joe Smith to score at least 500 points in each of his first two years.
But Trimble has seen his stock as a near-consensus first-round pick drop during the second half of his sophomore year. Plagued by a hamstring injury since early January, Trimble went through the first prolonged shooting slump of his career, finishing the season converting just 31.5 percent of 3-point attempts.
Still, the 6-2, 185-pound guard is going to go through the draft process and along with Stone, Layman and possibly Carter, is likely to be invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago next month. Since he hasn't signed with an agent, Trimble has left himself the possibility of returning to College Park for his junior year. He has until May 25 to decide whether he will enter the June 23 draft.
“I am looking forward to taking advantage of this opportunity and entering my name in the NBA draft,” Trimble said in a statement. “I am excited that the new rules allow me the chance to go through this process.”
Said Turgeon: “Melo will go through the draft process, which will provide him a stronger understanding of where he could potentially be selected. Melo has worked very hard and we will continue to support and guide him throughout this process.”
Elmore said Trimble made a “smart” decision.
“He's been on a roller coaster as far as NBA potential and I think it's a good idea to really take a look out there,” Elmore said. “There's a lot of quality point guards, not only in college, but still floating out there in the league as well as overseas and the competition is really stiff for him. It's a good time to really find out what he needs to work on or improve. If he's going to be a mid-second-round pick like a lot of people are saying right now, with the new rule, he could be better suited possibly coming back if he doesn't hear what he wants to hear.”
Trimble's high school coach, Joe Wootten of Bishop O'Connell in Northern Virginia, said that Kim Trimble told him that her son plans to continue taking classes at Maryland and working with members of the strength and conditioning and coaching staff on his game.
Wootten said that Kim Trimble's response to the possibility of her son's withdrawing from classes while he was training for the draft was “Why should he do that, he's already done half the work?” Wootten said that he has heard positive things about his former star from several NBA scouts.
“A lot of them feel that he's one of the best guards in college basketball on the ball screen, which is huge in the NBA,” Wootten said. “He's obviously got a lot going for him. I think he's going to be a great pro, I really do. The one thing that I know is that whenever somebody doubted him, he's always made the adjustments, he's always risen to the occasion. I know he'll do it again.”