COLLEGE PARK – Maryland head coach Randy Edsall stuck with running back recruit Johnathan Thomas after he suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this month. The Danvers (Mass.) St. John’s Prep standout underwent reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL on Oct. 4.
Some programs might pull a scholarship offer after such a severe injury, but Maryland never wavered.
“Johnathan is verbally committed to Maryland, and I fully expect him to stick with that," St. John’s Prep head coach Jim O’Leary said in early October. “And I fully expect for Maryland to honor that commitment, because this is not a career-ending injury.”
Thomas was the third member of the Class of 2014 to commit to Maryland, giving Edsall a verbal pledge in early May. The 5-11, 215-pound speedster had been high on the Terrapins since receiving a scholarship offer in February.
“Man, this feels amazing. I made the right decision for me and my family. I have no second thoughts, I’m 100 percent sold on Maryland,” said Thomas, adding that Edsall, running backs coach Andre Powell and Massachusetts recruiter Keith Dudzinski were “all fired up” when he called to tell them the news. “I was their top running back choice and they got me. They’re excited for me, and I’m excited to be a Terp.”
Those words ring hollow now that Thomas has switched his commitment to Penn State. Thomas told various media outlets that Penn State was always his “dream school,” and he immediately reconsidered his commitment when head coach Bill O’Brien finally offered a scholarship in late September.
Thomas, who made SportsCenter’s top plays segment earlier this season with a wild 107-yard interception return, told Blue-White Illustrated that O’Brien – himself a graduate of St. John’s Prep – was largely responsible for changing his mind about a collegiate destination.
Thomas originally chose Maryland over offers from Arkansas, Boston College, Connecticut and Virginia. However, Penn State and Wisconsin (among others) offered after the youngster performed at a high level during early-season games.
Now Maryland will have to scramble if it wants to add a tailback to the current recruiting class. The Terrapins have offered four-star prospects Shai McKenzie (Washington High, Pa.) and Derrell Scott (Havelock High, N.C.), but are not considered a serious player for either.
Turgeon Must Make Tough Call On Hill
Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon is facing quite a dilemma with regard to the situation surrounding assistant coach Dalonte Hill.
Hill put Turgeon is a real tough spot in late October when he was charged with driving under the influence and other related charges. It was the third drunk driving incident for Hill in the past five years and his second in 21 months.
Naturally, Turgeon must await the final outcome of this latest case before making a decision about Hill’s future with the program, but the overwhelming evidence of poor judgment and bad behavior is pretty hard to ignore.
Hill has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the program to attend to what was described in a university-issued press release as “personal matters.”
“I appreciate the support and encouragement I’ve received from Coach Turgeon and the athletic department,” Hill said in a statement. “But at this time, it is in my best interest to take a leave of absence from the Maryland basketball program and focus my attention on some personal matters that need to be dealt with.”
On the surface, it would seem that an assistant coach with that type of track record should be outright fired. Any player who was charged twice in two years for the same crime would probably be dismissed from the team.
However, it’s not that simple for Turgeon, since Hill is such a critical figure to Maryland’s local recruiting. Hill was hired specifically to thaw the icy relationship the program had with top AAU programs in the D.C. area during the tenure of previous head coach Gary Williams.
Hill has strong ties to the perennially powerful D.C. Assault program, having played and coached in it. Those connections have begun to pay off for the Terrapins, who will have four D.C. Assault products on the roster by the start of the 2014-2015 season. Landing current freshman point guard Roddy Peters got the ball rolling, and Hill added two more standout prospects from the Class of 2014 in combination guard Melo Trimble and wing guard Dion Wiley.
Firing Hill could very well reverse the gains the Terps have made on the D.C. recruiting front. Area AAU coaches loyal to Hill could view such a move as Turgeon not backing his assistant at a time of trouble. Basketball power brokers in the Baltimore never forgave Maryland for firing native son Bob Wade as head coach, and that negatively impacted the program’s ability to recruit in the talent-rich city for many years.
Another twist to the situation surrounds Curtis Malone, the co-founder and director of D.C. Assault. Malone is the D.C. AAU figure who Hill is closest with, and one wonders how important that relationship will be for Maryland moving forward. That’s because Malone was arrested in August and charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin.
The Washington Post reported in September that Hill wrote a letter of support for Malone to be used in court proceedings. In the letter, Hill stated that Malone was a father figure and instrumental in getting him to attend college. If Malone is no longer running D.C. Assault, suddenly Hill’s importance to the Maryland basketball program is greatly reduced.
However, there is also a faction of fans and media that believe Turgeon must cut ties with Hill if the assistant is found guilty of the most recent charges. It simply sends a bad message if such transgressions are overlooked or swept under the rug.
Ultimately, Turgeon must decide if he feels comfortable, both personally and professionally, having an assistant on staff with three DUI incidents on his record. Obviously, another part of the equation is whether Hill will be able to effectively recruit when players and parents are aware of his background, which opposing coaches will no doubt use against Maryland.
“We will support (Hill) through this process,” Turgeon said in a statement. “We want him to focus on his personal life. Basketball is secondary at this point. His primary focus needs to be on his health and well-being.”