How will Maryland's recruiting be affected by the resignation of Dalonte Hill?
COLLEGE PARK – There was an interesting tidbit in the various media reports about the Maryland basketball program’s various staff changes.
It was a one-liner that stated Dustin Clark served as the point man in the recruitment of Potomac High guard Dion Wiley. That was surprising news, since it was assumed that Dalonte Hill had been the primary recruiter for Wiley, who plays AAU ball for D.C. Assault. After all, Hill was hired specifically because of his strong contacts within the greater Washington area AAU scene.
Meanwhile, it seems far-fetched to think that Maryland’s Director of Basketball Operations, who is not allowed to actively recruit, was more instrumental than Hill in landing Wiley, a four-star prospect who officially signed with the Terrapins during the November national letter-of-intent period. However, head coach Mark Turgeon told beat reporters that Clark “really helped close the door” on Wiley.
One would have to assume the media mention of Clark’s involvement with Wiley’s recruitment came from Turgeon and was designed to ease the fear of fans that Hill’s resignation would hurt the program with regard to recruiting the talent-rich region of D.C. and Prince George’s County.
It is unclear which member of the coaching staff will replace Hill in that critical role. Bino Ranson will no doubt remain the lead recruiter for the Baltimore area while Clark’s roots are in Texas. It would seem the most logical solution at this stage is for Turgeon and top assistant Scott Spinelli to spearhead the District of Columbia and surrounding areas.
Hopefully, the key players with the top D.C. AAU programs, primarily Damon Handon of D.C. Assault and Keith Stevens of Team Takeover, would understand and respect that Turgeon had to cut ties with Hill.
Three driving under the influence charges in the span of five years made Hill a liability to Maryland basketball, and the hard truth is that Turgeon could not retain someone with a clear drinking problem and consistent pattern of poor decision-making as an assistant coach.
Hill did the right thing by resigning and will likely resurface elsewhere at some point. Maryland basketball has made major inroads with the D.C. AAU fraternity during Turgeon’s three-year tenure. Hopefully, those relationships will be solid and positive by the time Hill turns up at another school and resumes recruiting the region.
Meanwhile, Clark had assumed most of Hill’s day-to-day duties after he took a leave of absence following the most recent DUI charge in October. Clark was first hired by Turgeon as Director of Basketball Operations at Texas A&M and moved with the head coach to Maryland in the same role.
Based on seven years of loyal service in an unsung role, Clark deserved the promotion to full-time assistant. Turgeon said Clark has proven his worth by preparing scouting reports, handling travel logistics an overseeing many of the organizational details involved with recruiting.
“Dustin is, besides my wife and kids and brothers and family, the most loyal guy in the world to me,” Turgeon said. “I know he’s got my back, and that’s really – in the business, as tough as it is – to have a guy on your staff, it’s really important.”
In a related move, Maryland hired all-time great Juan Dixon as special assistant to the head coach. While the title is different, one would assume that Dixon, the former first team All-American and star of the 2002 national championship team, would take over many of the behind-the-scenes duties previously handled by Clark.
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Maryland may have the finest pair of front-court shooters in the country. Evan Smotrycz and Jake Layman and fellow forward Jake Layman are both tremendously accurate from three-point range and having two lethal perimeter threats balancing the court really challenges opposing defenses.
The Terrapins also boast a dangerous slasher in Dez Wells, who has the size, strength and athleticism to get to the rim pretty much anytime he wants. Freshman point guard Roddy Peters has also proven an outstanding penetrator – using his speed, quickness and stop-and-go moves to get into the lane to create for himself and others.
Maryland has a trio of strong, beefy, broad-shouldered power forwards to provide interior defense and rebounding in Shaquille Cleare (6-9, 265), Charles Mitchell (6-8, 260) and Damonte Dodd (6-9, 240).
Swingman Nick Faust has embraced the role of shutdown defender, while former walk-on Varun Ram has emerged as a real sparkplug off the bench with his nonstop hustle and effort. The Terps are blessed with superb depth, which will only improve when projected starting point guard Seth Allen returns from a broken foot in early January.
On the surface it would seem that Maryland has all the parts in place to compete successfully in the ACC and return to the NCAA Tournament following a three-year drought. However, there is one major missing element that could prevent the Terps from reaching their full potential.
Maryland does not have a reliable post presence, an effective back-to-the-basket scorer. Turgeon likes to play inside-outside basketball on the offensive end, and that’s hard to do when opponents do not need to collapse or double-team any of the interior players.
Cleare and Mitchell remain rather limited on the offensive end, as neither possesses polished post moves. Both have the body to clear space and back down defenders, but neither has much of a repertoire once catching the basketball. One would think at this point in their careers, Cleare and Mitchell would have perfected a jump hook or a drop-step or a turnaround, but sadly that is not the case.
Mitchell is a lot further along than Cleare, whose inability to finish around the rim is downright maddening. Mitchell has a softer touch inside, but is still primarily limited to dunks and layups.
That lack of a viable interior scoring threat could become an issue in conference play if opponents press out on the perimeter to take away the long-range shooting of Layman and Smotrycz while working to contain the driving ability of Wells. If defenses are going to play Maryland’s post players one-on-one without help, they need to be made to pay.
Maryland has the size, athleticism and length to be an outstanding defensive team, but that was not evident early on this season. Turgeon was absolutely irate that Oregon State shot nearly 60 percent from the field in a 90-83 victory at Comcast Center on Nov. 17.
Following that game, the Terps ranked around 235th nationally in field goal percentage defense. Turgeon addressed that deficiency immediately and the Terps played much tougher defense while winning the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands and have improved to No. 131 in field goal percentage defense.
Now the coaching staff needs to fix the team’s woeful free throw shooting, which is going to prove costly during the inevitable close contests that occur during conference play. Maryland is shooting 60 percent from the charity stripe, with every member of the rotation except Layman (84 percent) and Wells (80 percent) below average.
Mitchell, who draws a lot of fouls with his inside power game, has been simply awful – making just nine of 32 (28 percent) of foul shots. Remarkably, Smotrycz shoots 48 percent from the field but just 68 percent from the free throw line.