Mark Turgeon's Three-Man PressPosted on November 14, 2011
This trio of Terps assistants stands ready to upgrade the talent level at College Park, by working harder and smarter
By Dave Lomonico
Presidents have their cabinets. CEOs have their financial advisers. Chefs have their line cooks.
Alongside every leader is a group of invaluable seconds who work tirelessly beneath the periphery in deference to the head honcho. They are the stabilizers, the steadfast supporters, the backbone.
In the cutthroat world of Division I men's college basketball, those reliable seconds are charged with replenishing constantly depleted rosters. They are recruiters -- pseudo-GMs who sift through thousands and thousands of high school "free agents" in search of the proverbial "right fit."
At Maryland, Dalonte Hill, Bino Ranson and Scott Spinelli, the three Brooks Brothers-clad assistants, will be joining new head coach Mark Turgeon on the Comcast Center floor this winter. It is these three, along with Turgeon, who will supposedly lead the University of Maryland out of the recruiting dark ages.
The expectations are undeniably high, and Turgeon has said nothing to diminish those expectations.
"You guys [the media] labeled them [the assistants] the Dream Team," Turgeon said at the team's preseason media day. "And we have a great staff; these guys have opened many doors for us. … But I want more. I want to sign the best players."
When Turgeon brought in Hill from Kansas State and Spinelli from Texas A&M, while retaining Ranson, a second-year coach from the Gary Williams regime, he sent a statement to the college basketball world: The University of Maryland will be a player on the national stage. It's a mantra that hasn't been heard in College Park since the days of Lefty Driesell, who allegedly slept in front of Moses Malone's house in an effort to woo him to Maryland.
"It's no secret coach Williams wasn't known as a great recruiter and sort of didn't like the whole process," Rivals.com national basketball analyst Jerry Meyer said. "But what coach Turgeon has done there is bring in three top-notch recruiters who can get the job done on a national level, along with Turgeon himself, who also works very hard as a recruiter."
Maryland is now officially on the Amateur Athletic Union's radar. For any major Division I program to survive, it's essential that coaches at least dabble in the somewhat murky AAU game.
As Meyer mentioned, Williams wasn't a huge fan of the game. Turgeon and his staff are.
"The beauty of Dalonte Hill is that he was coached in high school by [AAU Team Takeover coach] Keith Stevens, while he got his start in AAU coaching with [D.C. Assault coach] Curtis Malone," said Keith Cavanaugh, the publisher of Terrapin Times.
"Combine Hill's relationship with Stevens and Malone and Maryland has a connection to the two biggest AAU powers in the D.C.-Baltimore corridor. Then, to the north, you have [AAU Baltimore Elite coach] Bub Carrington, who is like a father to Bino Ranson. Throw in Scott Spinelli, who knows elite AAU coaches around the country, and you have a juggernaut of local recruiters tied in with all the top AAU power brokers."
Already Maryland has reaped the benefits. In just a few months the "Dream Team" has reeled in three highly rated class of 2012 prospects, including Rivals four-star center Shaquille Cleare (AAU team Houston Defenders), ESPN four-star forward Jake Layman (BABC) and three-star guard Seth Allen (Hoop Booth).
As of Nov. 10, ESPN had Maryland's 2012 class ranked 17th in the county. Since 2007, the Terps' only other top-25 class was the 2010 recruits, who were ranked 21st.
"The perception of Maryland has changed," Meyer said. "They are now in the national spotlight."
With Maryland in for a potentially rough 2011, with six walk-ons and only nine scholarship players, the names to know this season aren't necessarily Sean Mosley, Terrell Stoglin and James Padgett. They are Hill, Ranson and Spinelli. The road to the Final Four runs through the Dream Team: the Silent Sniper, the Mercurial Maven and the Flamboyant Finisher.
The Silent Sniper
But as soon as a reporter engaged Hill, he made Turgeon seem downright cryptic, his laid-back, quiet demeanor belying an open, forthright style. Get Hill talking about basketball and he's liable to say anything -- but only if probed. Otherwise, Hill's more apt to listen than yap.
"Dalonte's communications skills set him apart," said Damon Handon, general manager of the AAU-based D.C. Assault squad, who has known Hill for about 15 years. "He never gets over-emotional in any situation and he's very engaging, which is a plus in adverse situations. Everyone wants to be around him, and kids seem drawn to him. It's why he's one of the best recruiters in the country."
Team Takeover coach Keith Stevens foresaw Hill's recruiting acumen even before he graduated high school at Newport School in Washington, D.C. At the time, Hill, who had just won a city title, was a 6-foot-4 point guard trying to make a name for himself. Recognizing Hill's skill, Stevens gave the 10th-grader a spot on Team Takeover.
While Hill was a solid player, he was no Jason Kidd. Thus, he spent a lot of time riding the bench. After one particularly frustrating practice, Stevens saw Hill sitting in the stands with his head down.
"I went over to him and he said, 'Coach, I don't know if I can do this,' " Stevens said. "And it wasn't that he couldn't compete, but it was because he felt he wasn't reaching a certain level that he knew he was capable of. But he kept grinding, kept studying. And he ended up starting for us. ... He wanted to be a perfectionist and it rubbed off on everyone around him."
Hill's resume speaks for itself. A Washington, D.C., native, he actually coached the D.C. Assault team before taking an assistant's job at his alma mater, UNC Charlotte. But Hill didn't become a household name in college basketball circles until he reached Kansas State in 2006.
During Hill's five years as a Wildcats assistant, he was able to help lure in a slew of touted recruits, headlined by Wally Judge, Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen, Shane Southwell and, of course, Michael Beasley, the star of a 2006 class that Scout.com and Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the nation. With Hill's help, Kansas State went from a middling program to a yearly NCAA Tournament contender.
"When Dalonte was able to bring in Mike Beasley, that elevated his status and sort of gave him some cache with recruits," Meyer said. "All of a sudden, he became known as a high-powered, great recruiter, and it took on a life of its own. He's got momentum, and that's important in recruiting."
But Hill had to work for that momentum. Before Beasley, no one outside of Manhattan, Kansas, knew who he was.
"On my first recruiting trip [up in the Pittsburgh area], all I had was a generic shirt that said 'K-State' on it," Hill said. "The people there had no idea what sport I coached. They assumed I was a football coach since it was Pittsburgh."
They certainly knew about Kansas State after Hill lured in Beasley, effectively stealing him away from numerous elite programs, including Maryland. It turns out Beasley actually played under Hill when he coached D.C. Assault, so they had an instant connection. (Hill denied any involvement in the improper benefits Beasley's family allegedly received from D.C. Assault, and is not being implicated in the lawsuit.)
"I had known Michael since he was 12 years old," Hill said. "We had a great relationship and he felt like a lot of people were coming after him, so he didn't know who he could trust. But I had been with him from the start, and his mom trusted me, too. He felt I could make everything work out the right way for him."
That's Hill's recruiting philosophy in a nutshell: start a dialogue, identify the talent before their Twitter feeds start filling with @UKCoachCalipari and @MikeKrzyzewski (if he had a Twitter account), build a relationship and try to relate.
"I try to attack them when they're young," Hill said. "You have to get the Terrapin name out there early. … I think Maryland got away from that a bit recently. Hopefully we can get them going on the right path again."
In many ways, Hill is more counselor than car salesman. During one phone conversation, he might give a prospect advice on a family problem. The next, he'll talk about studying for a tough history test. Sometimes he'll give instruction on footwork and shot selection. The point is, Hill never touches on the same subject twice, always trying to offer something different, always keeping the topics interesting.
"Dalonte is very adaptable and he can relate to anyone," Stevens said. "He's like Tubby Smith with his mentality and recruiting prowess, but he's like Roy Williams in his techniques. He knows how to get to players to listen to him and like him."
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Issue 167: November 2011