Maryland men’s basketball went through a lot of change over the last year.
Mark Turgeon, the team’s coach for more than a decade, departed early last season. Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell, both impact players from last season, graduated.
At the dawn of the offseason, new coach Kevin Willard set up camp in College Park. He rapidly filled holes with the addition of transfer guards Don Carey and Jahmir Young, along with nabbing local freshman talent Noah Batchelor. However, he largely kept the base of the original roster.
Donta Scott, likely the sturdiest part of that base, felt a strong desire to remain a Terp. That desire kept him in the vicinity of Willard, who challenged him to improve his body to accommodate the increased minutes he’d likely see. Scott agreed.
Not only would his immediate future with the Terps be impacted, but his professional hopes as well. That’s something that Willard, who recruited Scott while at Seton Hall, wanted him to keep in mind.
“My main focus with him was that he has a game that can play in the NBA [but] he did not have a body that can play in the NBA,” Willard said. “Our total focus this off-season was to get his body into a place where he can play 35 minutes … 35 effective minutes.”
Kyle Tarp, Maryland’s director of basketball performance, worked with Scott to pulverize the body of his past. Tarp has been lauded by Terps alumni such as current NBA players Kevin Huerter and Aaron Wiggins, along with Ayala.
“People got fatigued and tired because of something that we wasn’t used to, we pushed each other, and Kyle pushed us even harder,” Scott said. “He refused to have a season like last season, and so do I.”
But Scott wasn’t so much bothered by the conditioning aspect, something he’s done since playing AAU ball. He reminisced about running around his high school’s track, even joking that it felt like his team ran more than the track team.
Scott found the nutrition aspect harder. He knew some of the things he grew up eating would be unhelpful to his goal to better himself. Scott switched from Popeyes and Wendy’s to Chipotle bowls and certain items from Chick-fil-A.
Scott also said apple juice, something Tarp isn’t fond of, is an unhealthy go-to drink for him. But it didn’t seem to deter him, and he saw the results of his off-season work.
Scott said he started near 250 pounds on a 6-foot-8 frame with about 16 percent body fat. Now, he’s in the low-220s with about nine percent body fat. He lost around 10 percent of his body weight in one offseason, and Willard has seen more than just the physical results of this undertaking.
“Donta has been terrific to be perfectly honest with you,” Willard said. “He’s brought it every day. He’s matured dramatically in seven months from what I’m asking him to do … he’s outworked everybody from day one.”
His improved frame will serve him well in an offense that could be much faster-paced under Willard. The coach said that’s due to the roster that trends toward the smaller-side, and the team will likely rely on Scott and Julian Reese to lead the team in rebounding after losing Qudus Wahab to the transfer portal.
“I think that [rebounding] is going to be our biggest key and our biggest weakness, biggest strength all year long is we have to rebound the basketball,” Willard said. “Can’t play faster and not get rebounds.”
Willard never quite found Wahab’s replacement, sticking with the smaller lineup in favor of an energetic small-ball approach. Scott says his improved endurance has shown already ahead of the Terps’ season-opener against Niagara on Monday.
“I just noticed that I’m able to be on the court longer, and I’m able to push through a little bit of things that I haven’t been able to,” Scott said. “I have a lot more bounce to me, I’m not putting so much pressure on my body.”
Scott seemingly met Willard’s expectations in their first off-season together. He was recently named to the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year watch-list and in what could be his final season with Maryland, expectations are high.
Scott aced his first test under Willard with his definitive transformation. Whether or not it’s enough to push the needle for Mayland, the forward certainly gave his all.
“At some point basketball ends, whenever that might be,” Scott said. “You don’t want to look back and be like ‘I could have done this better, I could have went a little harder this game.’”
Scott didn’t want to have any regrets for how his offseason went. If his offseason work translates to this year, he could be a force to begin the Willard era.