June 3, 2008
COLLEGE PARK Maryland's difficulties on the basketball recruiting trail have been discussed in this space many times. The Terrapins' overall recruiting strategy and implementation throughout the 19-year tenure of coach Gary Williams has been hodgepodge at best.
Last summer, it appeared that Maryland might have taken some steps forward, thanks to the hustle of second-year assistant coach Chuck Driesell. The Terps seemingly had cast their net wider and gotten involved with more prospects than in years past. That seemed prudent, since Williams often has been burned by putting all of his eggs in a couple baskets and having no backup plan in place for when targeted recruits committed elsewhere.
Maryland also began scouting younger players more than ever, building a list for the future and forging relationships with numerous freshmen and sophomores. That was a significant change from the past, when the Terps too often got involved with prospects later than competing schools.
Those important changes in approach still may benefit Maryland, which seems well-positioned with large numbers of top-75 players in the recruiting classes of 2009 and 2010. However, it was the same old story of missed opportunities, mistaken judgment and misfortune with the Class of 2008.
On May 23, Maryland issued a press release announcing that junior college guard Tyree Evans had asked for and received a release from the national letter of intent he signed with the Terrapins one month earlier.
Evans, of course, was the Virginia native with multiple arrests and other run-ins with the law. Maryland endured a wave of bad publicity after Evans signed, and that led to another public disagreement between Williams and athletic director Debbie Yow.
Williams told members of the media that he knew all about Evans' criminal history and felt the youngster deserved a second chance. Yow issued a statement saying she had not been fully informed of the player's criminal past. Evans' misdemeanor convictions had been pled down from the far more serious charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and statutory rape.
It was just another embarrassing episode that showed a lack of communication between Williams and Yow. Can anyone forget the NIT fiasco, in which the head coach declined to accept an invitation, but the AD revealed that the school already had agreed to host the first round?
Yow said the revelations about Evans meant that he would undergo a more rigorous admissions process, which included an Office of Student Discipline review that is mandatory for all applicants who have been found guilty of a crime.
Bobby Steinburg, who coached Evans at Motlow State Community College, said the player voluntarily withdrew his application because he "didn't want to be a distraction." Steinburg said all the negative publicity directed toward Maryland and the fact that the admissions process was dragging became too much for Evans.
"It was just constantly a struggle. It seemed like every day it was something new," Steinburg told the Baltimore Sun. "Tyree, believe it or not, is not someone who wants the spotlight all the time. He doesn't want to be a distraction, and he felt that was happening."
According to numerous sources, what really happened was that Maryland's background check of Evans turned up another criminal charge that had not been previously reported. In November 2005, Evans was arrested in Cecil County, Md., and charged with marijuana possession and a handgun violation.
Williams reportedly was unaware of that incident, which may have ended any chance of Evans gaining approval from the admissions office. Having Evans withdraw his application appeared to be a way for everyone involved to save face, although Steinburg and Maryland officials insisted that no member of the school's athletic department or coaching staff told the recruit what to do.
CLASS OF 2008 RESULTS CHAOTIC
Regardless of how it all went down, the Evans saga was just the latest chapter in a botched recruiting campaign for Maryland.
Going into the summer of 2007, the Terps' top targets were New Jersey power forward Quintrell Thomas and Pennsylvania shooting guard Brian Walsh. Both seemed like ideal fits, as the Terps needed a frontcourt banger and a strong perimeter shooter.
Maryland "slow-played" Walsh, reportedly because Williams wasn't sold on his overall athleticism. Walsh committed to Xavier in mid-June, then made it clear that he wasn't happy with the way his recruitment was handled by Maryland. He chose the Musketeers mainly because coach Sean Miller was more involved with the recruiting process.
"I think it was just the coaches," Walsh told Rivals.com. "Gary Williams is a great coach, but he is kind of from the old school. He lets the recruiters do most of the recruiting, but Coach Miller really reached out to me more, and I just related really well with him."
Maryland's recruitment of Thomas dragged on seemingly forever. In late June, the 6-8, 225-pound insider told numerous recruiting analysts that Maryland was his clear-cut leader. However, things changed dramatically when the Terps took a commitment from well-traveled but highly regarded forward Terrence Jennings. Maryland stopped recruiting Thomas, who later signed with Kansas.
Jennings was another risk, having bounced from school to school because of academic and behavioral issues. The 6-10, 225-pounder is a rare talent, a fantastic run-jump athlete who can block a shot on the defensive end, fill the lane in transition, then throw down an alley-oop dunk.
Jennings, from Sacramento, Calif., made a surprise commitment to Maryland in early August, then re-opened his recruitment just over a month later. It is believed that Jennings and Maryland had a falling-out over what prep school he should attend in order to get qualified. Williams supposedly wanted the player to leave Mt. Zion in North Carolina, which he ultimately did in favor of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts.
Having passed over Thomas in favor of Jennings, then subsequently losing Jennings, Maryland was in scramble mode and unsuccessfully pursued a series of big men, including Sudan native Ater Majok (Connecticut) and Ken Bowman of Hutchinson Community College. Majok and Bowman even gave commitments to the Terps, but they didn't stick.
Supposedly, Maryland took a pass on Walsh because Williams was more enamored with Chris Turner, a North Carolina native who played this past season at Christian Life Center Academy. Turner was viewed as a long-range bomber who also was athletic enough to attack the basket and finish.
Turner also committed to the Terps, but he subsequently was put on hold while the coaching staff awaited a decision from top-50 wing guard target Sean Mosley of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. The 6-4, 200-pound slasher averaged 24.2 points per game as a senior.
Maryland unceremoniously dropped Turner after Mosley committed, and the 6-5 youngster signed this spring with East Carolina.
Midway through the season, Williams determined that Maryland needed to get quicker in the backcourt, so he suddenly accepted a commitment from Hutchinson combination guard Bobby Maze, whose prep career began at Suitland High in nearby Prince George's County, Md. Maze, who graduated from Patterson School in North Carolina, originally signed with Oklahoma but had a mutual parting of ways there with coach Jeff Capel. Maze made a brief stop at another junior college before finding his way to Hutchinson.
There was much excitement when Maze committed, but the deal quickly turned sour when Maryland realized that the Allen Iverson look- and play-alike would not find out whether he was qualified or not until attending summer school. Maze, who was said to be "deeply disappointed" by the Terps' decision to rescind their scholarship offer, wound up signing with Tennessee.
So, after a whirlwind recruiting year filled with a slew of prospects, commitments, de-commitments and scholarship revocations, it remains unclear who exactly will comprise the Class of 2008 in College Park. Mosley, who still has not qualified despite numerous SAT attempts, is the lone official signee.
Maryland still is attempting to add versatile forward Jin Soo Kim to this year's class. Kim originally committed to the Terps for 2009, but he has hustled to complete course work and earn a qualifying SAT score in order to be reclassified as a senior. If it all works out, the 6-9 South Korea native will enroll at Maryland this fall.