Analyzing Donta Scott’s return to Maryland basketball

More good news for Maryland basketball carried into this week as Donta Scott’s return bolsters preseason expectations in year two of the Kevin Willard era.

Scott, a four-year starter at Maryland, will use his remaining year of eligibility in College Park and will play a pivotal role in head coach Kevin Willard’s second season at the helm.

Since joining the team in the 2019-20 season, Scott has started in 114 of his 129 career games and is fresh off a 2022-23 season where he averaged over 11 points and six rebounds per game to help lead Maryland to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

He is the third returning starter from the 2022-23 roster, joining Jahmir Young, who announced his return on March 28, and Julian Reese.

With Hakim Hart announcing his intention to play elsewhere, Scott is Maryland’s longest tenured player.

Having the three of them anchor a relatively young roster in the 2023-24 season will help Willard in year two, as the Terps will look to improve on their sixth-place conference finish from a season ago.

With four-star and ESPN top-100 small forward Jamie Kaiser entering the mix next season, Scott will likely remain at the power forward spot but brings positional versatility to the roster next season.

His impending decision impacted the makeup of the roster during the offseason, as the open power forward spot left a glaring hole in the starting five. This is a position that Willard would have had to dip into the transfer portal for, and still should, with the frontcourt depth behind Scott and Reese being thin.

Now, he’ll lean on an experienced piece to become a scoring option next season.

After shedding close to 30 pounds in the offseason, his new-found athleticism allowed him to be more versatile on both ends of the floor.

“I wanted him to be the guy that was not only the vocal leader, but I wanted him to be the guy that everyone understands how we work in this program,” Willard said during the season. “He’s the reason why we are where we are today.”

His 2022-23 season had its ups and downs, though. Donta Scott showed NBA-caliber potential at times, highlighted by his performance at the Mohegan Sun tournament in November, where he scored 25 points against Saint Louis and 24 points in a championship victory over Miami.

His fast start opened the eyes of teams around the country as he and the Terps jumped into the top-25.

His consistency cooled off as the season progressed into conference play, but he remained one of Maryland’s go-to options on the offensive end despite some of his struggles.

Throughout his four years at Maryland, Scott has been tasked with playing multiple positions, sometimes even making the switch mid-game. He has played valuable minutes at anywhere from the small forward to the center positions and even started multiple NCAA Tournament games at center during the 2020-21 tournament.

His versatility has made him an asset in College Park.

Scott returns next season as someone who can play both the three and four with the three spot hinging on other potential developments in the frontcourt. With Jahmir Young and Julian Reese returning to give Willard proven scoring options, the roster also welcomes impact freshmen like Kaiser and DeShawn Harris-Smith to give Willard two more pieces who can create for themselves.

With the current roster makeup, Maryland could opt for the same starting lineup as one season ago with Harris-Smith and Kaiser joining Jahmir Young, Scott and Reese, though Ian Martinez could contend for the day one starting job over Harris-Smith. But with a potential second-year jump from Caelum Swanton-Rodger to appear at the five, that would slide Julian Reese to the four and give Scott a chance to shine at the three.

Maryland would benefit with impressive size from the second lineup, but its offensive success could hinge on Scott’s efficiency. Could his efficiency improve with added scorers on the roster?

Time will tell as Maryland finished 6-9 in games last season when Scott scored less than ten points, but the Philly native will have his own to prove after coming off a career-low 44.2% shooting percentage inside the three-point line, a stat that’s steadily decreased each season since he arrived in College Park. Scott is also coming off consecutive seasons where he’s combined to shoot 30% from deep, a metric Scott will get a chance to improve upon for pro scouts next season.

Willard’s first recruiting class, which features Kaiser, Harris-Smith, Jahnathan Lamothe, and Braden Pierce should make an impact from day one, but Scott’s return now complicates Maryland’s scholarship situation for the time being with the staff currently one over.

That’s still expected to be resolved with the staff active in the transfer portal, amid rumors of a Hunter Dickinson reunion with DeMatha teammate Jahmir Young and former coach Mike Jones, who was recently hired to Willard’s staff.

The Terps have found themselves on many “way too early top-25” rankings from national writers and outlets across the country, which should increase with the return of Donta Scott. His leadership and will to win should provide Maryland a boost in the 2023-24 season.

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