When Kevin Willard became Maryland men’s basketball’s coach in March 2022, he was tasked with laying the foundation for a new era in College Park.
The Terps outperformed nearly everyone’s expectations at the end of Willard’s first season. The 22-13 campaign was highlighted by an 8-0 start, an undefeated home conference slate, a win over then-No. 3 Purdue and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Willard felt that by the end, Maryland reached its ceiling with a second-round loss to Alabama — one he thinks has raised due to complementary additions that add the size, athleticism and physicality his team needs to compete in the Big Ten and nationally.
Willard and the Terps embark on year two with Tuesday’s season-opener against Mount St. Mary’s, a second act where the coach will need to build on that foundation.
Maryland returns three starters with junior Julian Reese and fifth years Donta Scott and Jahmir Young.
Young, a point guard who transferred from Charlotte ahead of last season, led the Terps with 15.8 points per game, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and a unanimous preseason All-Conference selection this year.
While younger, more unproven players are generally who coaches tab to improve, Willard said Young could take another step in his second season in the Big Ten. The coach compared Young’s transition to Maryland to his own — both had to learn the difficulties of playing in a major conference and both hope to apply those lessons this year.
“He understands how we’re playing, he understands the system so much better,” Willard said. “He’s thinking like a point guard now where last year he was really just trying to survive and that tells you how good of a player he is with the year he had.”
Young’s pick-and-roll partner, Reese, averaged 11.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in a breakout season. He particularly blossomed down the stretch and had one of the best games of his career in the Terps’ NCAA tournament win over West Virginia. He posted 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Joining him in the front court is Scott. He averaged 11.3 points and 6 rebounds per game — both slight dips from his 2021-22 numbers.
But Willard doesn’t believe those figures represent Scott’s impact. The coach said the forward had the best preseason of any Terp over the last two years and is “poised for a breakout.”
Scott’s effectiveness could come down to his jump shot. He shot 43.8 percent on three-pointers as a sophomore but has been around 30 percent over the last two seasons.
“I shot very well my sophomore year, and I feel like I can get back to that,” Scott said. “It’s easier when you have a coach [like Willard] that tells you to shoot the ball when you get those open looks, and I feel like I’m getting back to the point where I’m more confident in my shot.”
Scott’s three-point percentage as a sophomore was the highest of any Terp with at least two attempts per game since Justin Jackson in 2016-17, who also shot 43.8 percent. The last Maryland player with a higher rate was Eric Hayes in the 2009-10 season, with 45.4 percent.
For Maryland, whose biggest offensive question centers on shooting talent, Scott’s re-emergence as a reliable three-pointer could open up an offense that struggled at times last year. Maryland shot 32.8 percent from three last season, putting them at 238th out of 363 teams in the country, per KenPom.
The Terps’ departures — Don Carey, Patrick Emilien, Hakim Hart and Ian Martinez — accounted for more than half of the made threes. Maryland’s returning players shot 30.6 from three, a mark that would put it in the bottom 30 nationally.
DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr. headline Willard’s freshmen additions. Both are expected to help fill the voids in the backcourt and wing left by Carey, Hart and Martinez while Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo looks to step into Emilien’s utility role.
Geronimo, Harris-Smith and Kaiser Jr. all gave the Terps the size and athleticism Willard desired. Harris-Smith was ranked the No. 32 player in the 2023 class in 247Sports’ composite rankings. Kaiser Jr. is slotted in at No. 65.
The Terps will have a flurry of early tests this season. They’ll travel to Philadelphia to face No. 22 Villanova on Nov. 17 and face future conference foe UCLA on Dec. 22 before starting Big Ten play. The preseason media poll placed the Terps third in the conference behind Purdue and Michigan State.
It’s a substantial jump from last year when they were projected to be tenth. The Terps finished fifth, a representation of those exceeded expectations and the base Willard established for the program.
Now, he’ll work to continue building it up.