Maryland men’s basketball enters the 2023-24 season with just two players who wore Terps colors before the Kevin Willard era.
Donta Scott and Julian Reese are the only holdovers from the Terps’ previous head coach — the latter played just eight games under Mark Turgeon before the coach’s departure. With another batch of seven scholarship players, it’s taken just more than a year for Willard to make this Maryland squad his.
Willard believes another wave of incoming talent can improve the Terps a season after he became the first Maryland coach to qualify for the NCAA tournament in their first year at the helm.
“Our freshman class is the best freshman class I’ve ever had,” Willard said at Big Ten media day.
Maryland boasts its highest ranked recruiting class since 2018 — a group that included current NBA players Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins, as well as Eric Ayala.
The Terps’ freshmen and transfers Jordan Geronimo, Mady Traore and Chance Stephens add the athleticism and length Willard knew he needed after last year’s NCAA tournament defeat. The duo also bolsters a rotation that was short in Maryland’s biggest moments last season. Only seven players played more than four minutes in the team’s postseason losses to Indiana and Alabama.
“The same five guys aren’t going to be out there all night long,” Willard said. “We were kind of stuck a little bit last year with a six, seven-man rotation at the most. This year, I can see us going nine, 10, 11.”
The Terps will work to hone the talent from their mix of youthful exuberance with the experience that Geronimo and returners like Scott, Reese and Jahmir Young provide ahead of their home-opener against Mount St. Mary’s on Nov. 7.
“You can build off talent, and I feel like that’s what we’re doing,” Scott said. “We’re instilling toughness, we’re instilling speed and grit. The skill in a lot of these guys just helps us build off a lot more stuff.”
Harris-Smith headlines Maryland’s top-20 freshman class. The four-star wing from Virginia’s teammates have heralded him as “one of the best freshmen in the country”.
“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 that is a rarity in today’s kids. It really is a rarity.”
Harris-Smith was invited to a U.S. U-19 national team training camp over the summer and averaged 17.8 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and 2.6 steals per game during his senior season at Paul VI Catholic High School, leading his team to a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament final. The freshman appears set to contribute immediately.
“DeShawn Harris-Smith is by far the most talented player, probably the most physically gifted basketball player I’ve ever been able to coach so far,” Willard said at Big Ten media day.
In Geronimo, the Terps get a lengthy forward with Big Ten experience who can plug different holes in their lineup.
Geronimo averaged just 4.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in about 12 minutes per contest last season at Indiana, but Willard aims to take advantage of the 6-foot-6 senior’s diverse skill set.
Willard said he can play Geronimo at small forward, power forward or center depending on the Terps’ needs and have the Indiana transfer defend any position due to his athleticism.
“I call him the Swiss Army knife. He can kind of do a little bit of everything,” Willard said. “And he’s really helped us in the fact that he knows the league. He’s been through it. … He’s been great because he kind of understands what’s going on.”
Jamie Kaiser Jr.
Kaiser Jr. skyrocketed up recruiting boards after deciding to focus on basketball and leave his days as a high school football quarterback behind.
The four-star wing picked Maryland, where he attended games as a kid, over Indiana and Virginia. Willard believes the freshman’s ability as a shooter will address some of the Terps’ three-point concerns from last season.
“He’s always pushing me, like after practice, let’s get some more shots up, like he said go early, let’s do some more recovery, stuff like that,” Harris-Smith said. “I definitely think he’s the best shooter in our team, maybe one of the best shooters in the country.”
Traore transferred to Maryland this summer after joining New Mexico State halfway through the Aggies’ tumultuous season last year.
The Paris native initially committed to NC State after moving to the U.S. and playing high school basketball in Washington, D.C., and South Carolina. The 6-foot-11 sophomore center adds more depth down low for the Terps.
“Everyone just needs to take a big deep breath with Mady,” Willard said. “Just be patient with him because he has the talent, the athleticism, the length to be a superstar in my opinion, but it’s just going to take him a little time to adjust from not really playing last year, having a very difficult situation, to now coming into the highest level of basketball.”
Lamothe was the first commit of Maryland’s incoming freshman class when he chose the Terps in June 2022. The 6-foot-4 guard could bolster the Terps’ backcourt and wing depth.
The three-star recruit from St. Frances Academy set a pair of school records last season in a 57-point, 16 three-pointer performance. He became the first player in school history to average a triple-double during the regular season. Willard praised how the freshman has worked to get in shape and prepared for the college level at the team’s media day.
Stephens’ addition appeared to quell concerns with Maryland’s mediocre three-point shooting last season — the Terps’ 32.8 percent mark from behind the arc ranked 238th of 363 teams in the country. But it’s unclear whether the sophomore will contribute this season due to an injury.
Stephens suffered a patellar tendon tear about four months ago and there is no definitive timeline for his return to full practice, a Maryland spokesperson told The Diamondback.
The Loyola Marymount transfer shot 37.4 percent from deep for the Lions last season and hopes to find different ways to score apart from his proficiency from behind the arc — a skill that has earned him the nickname ‘Snipe.’
“He’s a very, very knockdown shooter,” Scott said. “I’ve seen clips where he’s just knocking on shot over shot over shot.”
The three-star center rounded out Maryland’s class of 2023 when he committed to the Terps in January.
The 7-foot freshman played for IMG Academy’s post-graduate team last season and was also recruited by Missouri, Vanderbilt, Pitt, NC State and Rutgers. Pierce, Traore and sophomore Caelum Swanton-Rodger figure to provide depth for Maryland’s starting big men.
Lukas Sotell and Ben Murphy
The Terps have two new walk-ons in freshman Lukas Sotell and junior Ben Murphy. Sotell played for Montverde Academy’s post-graduate team last season and was a third team all-state selection during his high school career in Connecticut. Murphy spent two years at Howard Community College and averaged 8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists last season.