By Dave Lomonico
The Maryland Terrapins football team finished the 2012 recruiting season with a post-Signing Day bang, inking its first top-10 prospect in a half-dozen years in Good Counsel receiver Stefon Diggs.
Not to be outdone, the basketball program followed suit by adding two late recruits of its own in big men Charles Mitchell (Marrietta, Ga./Wheeler) and Damonte Dodd (Centreville, Md./Queen Anne's). Four-star center Shaq Cleare (Houston/The Village School) signed with the Terps in November. Mark Turgeon has attacked an obvious area of need by adding three big bodies to what is widely considered a soft frontcourt.
"Obviously it's a big group of guys," ESPN analyst Dave Telp told the Washington Post. "Mitchell gives them a guy capable of establishing an identity in the paint, being a finisher and rebounding his area. … Dodd is moldable clay, whether he redshirts or plays next year, no one knows what you're getting. …
But I think the guy who has the chance to make an early impact is Cleare. I don't know how many guys like him are in the ACC. Of course, none of this matters unless you have a guy who knows what he's doing [with big men], and Mark Turgeon has a knack for doing it."
Mitchell isn't as highly regarded as Cleare, an ESPN top 100 national recruit, but at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, he's a physical presence inside. Right now, Mitchell's projected to come off the bench next year while he refines his mechanics.
"Charles is a banger inside, who plays real tough defense in the paint," said Dan Painter, a basketball analyst for the Terrapin Times. "Maryland needs more players like him, because they're soft as butter [inside] right now."
Mitchell averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds at Wheeler High this year. Schools such as Tennessee, Seton Hall, Florida State, Virginia and others were in pursuit, but Maryland assistant Bino Ranson had his eye on Mitchell for at least two years.
"I think I'd fit in perfectly [at Maryland] as a low-post scorer and defensive rebounder," Mitchell told InsideMdSports.com. "I also played against Shaquille Cleare a few times and became close friends with him."
Dodd, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward/center, played in the obscurity of the Eastern Shore, and wasn't even listed on most recruiting Web sites until he committed to Maryland Feb. 21. Dodd isn't exactly the big name many Terps fans were expecting from Turgeon and his cast of all-star recruiters -- Ranson, Dalonte Hill and Scott Spinelli -- but those that have seen him play think Maryland has uncovered a gem.
"Dodd runs pretty well, has decent hands, rebounds with two hands, has nice touch from the line, has ridiculous wing span and has pretty good timing on blocked shots," Painter said. "The [problem is] he lacks a real go-to move right now -- he dunks everything -- and is not challenged at all, because the competition on the Eastern Shore is not strong. He'll need to practice against the bigs at Maryland or possibly do a prep year or red shirt year."
Dodd's coach at Queen Anne's, Dale Becraft, said his big man's game took a quantum leap from his junior to his senior year. After working with trainers and honing his mechanics, Dodd ended up averaging 24 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks per game.
"I never thought I'd get recruited by a school like Maryland, but I really put in the work before the season to get to this point," Dodd said. "I did some things at the end of the year in terms of shooting, rebounding and [overall development] that I wasn't able to before. That motivated me to really work in the offseason. Then I just took off this year. … I like to compare myself to Kevin Durant; I can shoot, run the floor, rebound -- everything."
Whether Dodd is Kevin Durant remains to be seen. Regardless, his game was apparently enough to catch Maryland's eye, along with a few other Division I programs, including Georgetown and Dayton.
"The upside with Damonte is just tremendous," Bercraft said. "Damonte still has some things to work on, and he might not make an impact right away, but the potential is definitely there, considering how much he's grown in the last year alone. He has the Maryland coaches excited."
Dodd is the first in-state commitment for Turgeon, whose previous signees and commitments were all from outside the Maryland borders. Although establishing a local presence is important, Terps aficionados probably couldn't care less about where a player is from as long as he can play. By most accounts, the three guys Maryland secured in November can do that.
"Mark Turgeon and his staff have a solid 2012 recruiting class headed to College Park," Rivals.com national basketball analyst Jerry Meyer said. "A physically dominant big man, Shaquille Cleare leads the class as a top 50 prospect. Along with [the other signees and commitments], it's a good start for Turgeon."
The aforementioned big man, Cleare, along with ESPN top 100 forward Jake Layman (Wrentham, Mass./King Philip Regional) and three-star guard Seth Allen (Fredericksburg, Va./Christian), all signed with Terps during the early signing period.
But in basketball recruiting, there's a second window in April for prospects that haven't quite made up their minds. There are always a few tantalizing players hanging around, and Mitchell and Dodd were two of them. During the press conference following the November signings, Turgeon said he was hoping to add to the class of 2012.
The Terps still might not be done. Word is they may also be eyeing up a point guard, considering the lack of a true assist man on the current roster.
Painter, who has spent the winter months scouting recruits up and down the East Coast, said Maryland was monitoring two players in particular.
The first is three-star point guard Sam Cassell Jr. (Fitchburg, Mass./Notre Dame Prep), a Baltimore native and son of the former Dunbar great by the same name. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound Cassell Jr. is a traditional point man, known for his ball handing and outside shooting.
"Cassell Jr. is just like his dad, who had a productive career in the NBA," Painter said. "He's not a tremendous athlete, but he can really stroke it, and he can handle the basketball. Cassell is very instinctive and he's got a great feel for the game."
Another point guard Maryland has extended an offer to is Jerron Wilbut, a three-star prospect from Downers Grove South High in Illinois known for his athleticism and shot-making ability. Ian Baker (Washington, D.C./ Arlington County Day), who decommitted from South Carolina, and Trey Dickerson (Los Angeles/Prince High) are two more names to watch out for.
But even if the Terps don't add a point guard, the pundits have certainly been impressed with their current commits. ESPN has Maryland's current class ranked 22nd, Scout.com had them 13th and Rivals.com had them near the top 25 -- and that was before Mitchell's commitment.
Considering Maryland's last few recruiting crops have barely registered on the national radar (just one top 25 class since 2007), it's a significant step up.
"Although it isn't a nationally ranked class, it falls right outside the rankings and is a strong foundational class," Meyer said before the Mitchell signing. "Turgeon is really attempting to upgrade the recruiting effort at Maryland."
Painter, who has been tracking Maryland hoops for years, said the difference in recruiting from this year compared with previous years had been night and day.
"Turgeon and his guys have been recruiting all over the place," he said. "The buzz in the community has been positive, and all the AAU and high school coaches seem to like Turgeon and his staff. [Maryland is] putting the full-court press on, and if they don't get the players, it isn't for lack of effort. … Look for some big things out of [the class of] 2013 and beyond."
Issue 171: March 2012