Between the time he got called up to the Queen Anne's County High School varsity basketball team in the middle of his sophomore season until the end of his junior high school season, Damonte Dodd made significant jumps in his game, developing into a fierce defensive presence but also improving his stamina, his ability to run the floor and adding to his offensive skill set around the basket.
Dale Becraft, Dodd's coach when he was on the Lions' varsity squad, knew what kind of weapon he had in Dodd but wasn't sure if Dodd would totally commit himself to unlocking his potential. Between his junior and senior seasons in high school, Dodd hired a personal trainer, added strength in the weight room and started working on his on-court skills, according to Becraft. It was an exhibition game early during his high school senior season in the fall of 2011 that the improvements he made showed.
"We always kidded him about his size, that he had the weakest dunks of anybody [his] size. We tried to get him to throw it down harder," Becraft said. "We're scrimmaging the East Wicomico High School -- his first scrimmage of his senior year. And one of the referees doing the scrimmage had been following his career, and Damonte came down on the fast break and caught the ball at the top of the key, leapt [at] about the foul line and tomahawked it down. The referee turned around and said, 'I think he's got it, Coach.'"
Several years later, Dodd is the 6-foot-11, 250-pound starting center for Maryland. He's finishing a four-year career in which he has played 117 games and started 67 entering the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, D.C. His 139 blocked shots are eighth on the Terps' all-time list.
This season, Dodd has been one of the Terps' defensive anchors and ranks third in the Big Ten in blocked shots at 2.0 per contest. Maryland honored Dodd at Xfinity Center as part of senior day against Michigan State March 4.
"Time flew. It's been a great four years," Dodd, a Centreville, Md., native, said. "I've been here for ups and downs and things like that, but Coach [Mark] Turgeon's been a great coach, took me in. Maryland, they took me in as a family. It's been a great four years, and I'm glad that I played here."
'We Need a Big Body'
Becraft knew about Dodd when he was playing during his middle school days, but he didn't know him personally until Dodd joined the junior varsity squad at Queen Anne's County High his freshman year. Dodd played on junior varsity from his freshman year until the middle of his sophomore year, during which he was still growing and developing his coordination, according to Becraft. But his size and defensive ability gave the Lions no choice but to call him up to varsity.
Dodd made a "quantum leap" between his junior and senior season, according to Becraft, averaging 24.2 points, 15.7 boards and 5.7 blocks as a senior. The Lions won a school-record number of games during Dodd's senior season, and his skill set was a major reason why.
Becraft said the Lions were "really aggressive pressing up front and [took] a lot of chances knowing that Damonte was in the back, that if they broke it, that he was going to be back there to block or alter or just intimidate." Becraft harkened back to one story in particular to illustrate what Dodd meant to the team.
"We had been pressing in a game, and [Dodd] was in the back of the press," Becraft said. "And a kid came down one-on-one. [He] saw Damonte and tried to shoot over him and put it over the backboard up into a baseball net that was hanging in the back [of the gym], and the ball was stuck up there. It's the highest shot I think I've ever seen."
Dodd committed to Maryland in February 2012, eventually narrowing it down to Maryland and Georgetown, though mid-majors like Morgan State were involved in his recruitment as well. Dodd said he chose Maryland because the Terps "really showed my family a lot of love." Turgeon said he first started recruiting Dodd only a month before he committed.
"I feel like I've known Damonte forever. I recruited him my first year here," Turgeon said. "… It's amazing what he's done for our program. When we recruited him, I was just like, 'Well, we need a big body.' I didn't expect him to do what he's done."
Dodd spent the 2012-13 school year at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va., where he played with future Kansas star Frank Mason III. Massanutten finished the season 30-4 and advanced to the National Prep Championship Elite Eight before bowing out. Dodd's confidence grew that he could be a significant contributor at Maryland after his experience at Massanutten.
"I was just like, 'I can really help whatever school I'm at,'" Dodd said. "That's probably when I really realized."
Productive Four-Year Career
Dodd enrolled at Maryland after spending a year at Massanutten. The Terps went 17-15 during the 2013-14 season, and Dodd played 7.5 minutes a game and only made one start. But one season later, opportunity knocked. Several players had transferred out of the program, including big men Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare.
Dodd played in all 35 games during the 2014-15 campaign and made 31 starts as Maryland went 28-7 and broke its four-year string of missing the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 15.9 minutes, 4.0 points, 3.8 boards and 1.5 blocks. One of his best performances of the year was a home game against Minnesota, when he scored nine points, grabbed 12 boards and blocked three shots.
"I think his sophomore year [is] when he made the big jump," Turgeon said. "He was in our starting lineup, we won 28 games. He was just very mature and poised at that time, and I think that's really when he made the jump."
Dodd played in all 36 of Maryland's games the following year while forming a formidable frontcourt with Robert Carter Jr., Diamond Stone and Michal Cekovsky. Though he hasn't had the same luck his senior year, missing two games in November due to a concussion and five games in December due to a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Nevertheless, entering the Big Ten Tournament, Dodd is averaging a career-high 6.5 points per game, mostly off rolling to the hoop, dump-offs and put-backs; he's shooting 59.4 percent from the floor. After he played 31 minutes during Maryland's win against the Hoosiers Jan. 10, He was called "the best screen-and-roll player in the league" by Indiana head coach Tom Crean.
Dodd is also effective at defending screen-and-rolls, and he's continued his development as a quality rim protector. After Maryland beat Oklahoma State Dec. 3, 2016, Cowboys head coach Brad Underwood said Dodd is "one of my favorite players on their team" because "whether it's through defensive rebounding or just his sheer size at the rim, his defensive presence, his impact is felt."
Turgeon said Dodd, an African-American studies major, has also grown off the floor, as well.
"I think he's talking about just becoming a better student," said Dodd when asked what Turgeon was referring to. "At first, it was tough. I had to learn where all my classes were and things like that and just being on time to places and study hall and just how to manage everything. Then I finally got the hang of how to manage everything, and this past year I made honor roll and different things like that. So I think that's how I got really better."