Kevin Willard on Georgetown series, how Derik Queen & Julian Reese fit together

Maryland basketball is months away from kicking off a pivotal year three under head coach Kevin Willard. Maryland is set to kick off the 2024-25 season against Manhattan on Monday, Nov. 4 ahead of a non-conference slate that features a home game vs. Marquette, a neutral site game vs. Villanova and an expected late December matchup vs. Syracuse. Maryland also announced a renewed four-year series with Georgetown beginning in 2025-26 as Kevin Willard joined The Kevin Sheehan Show to discuss how the local series came to fruition and was finalized, his thoughts on the 2024-25 squad and how star big men Derik Queen and Julian Reese are expected to mesh together this fall.

On Maryland’s finalized 2024-25 roster

“Yeah, I mean, I think one thing that we really focused on when we got here was really trying to set the foundation with a recruiting class and kind of what we realized quickly last year was we were just too young. We had five freshmen on the roster last year. And in the times of COVID and extra years and sixth-year guys, I thought DeShawn Harris-Smith had an unbelievable freshman year considering the fact he was playing against 25 and 26-year-olds in this league and we were just too young. So kind of what we really focused on this year was balancing out — obviously Derik Queen, five-star freshman from Baltimore, unbelievable talent, McDonald’s All-American game MVP. We just didn’t want to be young again. And in today’s college basketball with everyone getting paid and guys being able to transfer anytime they want as much as they want, we just wanted to go out and get the – we wanted to balance out our youth with getting some older guys. And I thought we did a great job of – we got Ja’Kobi Gillespie from Belmont, we got Selton Miguel from South Florida, Tafara Gapare from Georgia Tech. So we got some older guys that can balance out – DeShawn’s gonna be a sophomore, Derik’s gonna be a freshman – but now we have fifth-year senior, fifth-year senior, junior, junior. So we’re balancing out our roster much better. It’s just with NIL and the transfer portal, we really had to adjust how we wanted to build this. You just can’t do it with freshmen anymore. It’s just not possible.”

On how Derik Queen and Julian Reese can play together

“I’m excited about it because they’re both great passers. They’re both willing passers. I think you’re gonna have to guard one of them in the post. If you put your four-man on Derik, we’re going to post up Derik. If you put your four-man on JuJu, good luck. We’ll do a lot of high-low stuff. We’ll do some empty-side pick-and-roll thighs. They won’t play together all that much just because big guys get in foul trouble. I think JuJu played way too many minutes last year, I’d like to cut his minutes down by about five or six a game just to keep them fresher for the end of the year. So they’ll probably only play about 12 to 13 minutes a game. But when they play those minutes together, we’re going to put shooters around them and we’re going to pound the ball inside.”

On last season’s shooting concerns, who can fix that in 2024-25

“Yeah, I mean, I think that’s something that – Chance Stephens got hurt in the summer last year, and we brought him in from Loyola Marymount and we brought him in because he is an absolute sniper. I mean, he’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen. And again, last year, we were 20th in getting open shots, we were 350th in making them. That’s not a good combination. But again, a lot of it had to do the fact that we were young. DeShawn was out there. Jamie Kaiser was out there for quite a bit. And those guys were taking almost seven threes a game and didn’t shoot a very good percentage. So you look at Ja’Kobi Gillespie shot 40% from three. Selton shot almost 39% from three. Rodney Rice, who we added who I’m really excited about, can really shoot the basketball. So everyone we brought in, there was one thing I told the staff, everyone we bring in had to be able to shoot the basketball. Just because we got to do a better job of protecting Julian, and obviously Derik.”

On whether not being able to score or not being able to stop a score is more frustrating

“Not being able to score. You can always figure out a way to stop a team. But if you can’t, that was our biggest – we were the sixth-best offensive team in the country all the way up until the last week of the season, and we were playing most of it on transition defense because we could never really get our press set because the press was almost irrelevant … you’ve got to score and you got to score consistently. If you’re only pressing them once every four possessions, it just doesn’t have the same effect that it did the year before. So it was frustrating. But I think the frustrating part was understanding that we had a lot of young guys out there. I made the decision early in the season that we were going to play the young guys, we were going to develop them. And I think it’s going to really pay off for DeShawn because he’s already taken a huge jump this summer. He’s playing great, leadership’s off the charts. But I made the decision that I was gonna stick with those guys and I wanted them to develop. And sometimes you have to kind of struggle a little bit, especially in the Big Ten Conference. And they struggled, but they fought through it and I think they’re gonna be better off for it.”

On the value of the end of the bench

“Oh, absolutely. I mean, you can really only play seven or eight guys. And it’s just one of those things that if you look at every roster, you see all these guys at the end – if you look at the Celtics, who they had at the end of their roster. You look at a guy like Payton Pritchard, who played at Oregon. He’s a guy they put in at the end of the games because he makes half-court shots in the playoffs, and he makes a huge one in Game 5. It’s just being a really, really good guy, being a good player, getting a chance to develop. That’s something I think Jahmir has a really good shot at.”

On the renewed Maryland-Georgetown series beginning in 2025-26

“We actually talked that night when Ed got the job. And I said, Ed, I said…‘once you get in this area for a little bit, you’re going to realize how important this game is going to be.’ And I think it took him only about a month until he called me and was like, ‘everyone just wants us to play this game.’ And I think I had to get our schedule under control, he had to get his schedule under control. Scheduling is a huge part of how your season goes. And it took us a year, and we couldn’t get it going this year just because of the games he already had scheduled and the games that were already prescheduled for me. But we were excited that we’re gonna play early in the season. I think we’re going to play the first week of the season every year. And I think we signed a four-year deal. But Ed and I are really looking to make this every year for as long as we can do it.”

On his knowledge of the Maryland-Georgetown series

“I know that the first game I think was in like 1911 or 1910, something like that. And they, I think they’ve played close to 60-something times. I didn’t really care about the history of why they weren’t playing. I mean, I kind of heard it, but it doesn’t really matter. I think the important thing being in this area now for almost two full years, just understanding the passion for basketball on both sides — Maryland fans, Georgetown fans, how great of high school basketball we have in this area. I just thought it was really important for the area to — for the two biggest schools to play each other. And Ed agreed. Like I said, when Ed was here for just about a month, he called me up and was like, ‘yeah, you’re right. I get it now.’ And we’re just excited that we’re gonna play each other every year, and we’re excited that we’re playing early. I think we’re gonna play the first weekend of every year, depending on our football team, we might have to push it back a weekend, depending on our football team one year. But I think it’s something that it’s a great history. It’s two great programs. Legendary coaches, legendary players. I think it’s only right that we play in this area.”

On whether the series will avoid NFL Sunday game times

“It’s absolutely something that’s very, very important. That’s why we’re gonna play early in the season because we think it’s important to play early in the season. It’s gonna be a Saturday game. But time will – unfortunately, in college athletics, we don’t dictate time. That is all up to TV. They pay the bills, and so TV will probably tell us what time we play.”

On whether there was an issue who had the first home game

“That was why we didn’t get it done this year was just cause we’re trying – I had Marquette home this year. I think he’s at Syracuse and at Syracuse home next year. So it was just trying to balance out home and aways for both of us so it works out in the long run. We didn’t want to hamper anybody. We didn’t want anybody to have too many road games in one season. So that’s why we just had to be patient, just let some series and tournaments kind of run their course, and then get this started.”

On why the Villanova game is a neutral site after playing at Villanova in 2023-24

“Last year was part of the Big East-Big Ten challenge, which is no longer. This year, we were actually supposed to be playing in Madison Square Garden in a four-team tournament, but because of the NBA in-season tournament, that was gonna get moved to Brooklyn. We lost a team. So Kyle [Neptune] and I kind of just said, ‘well, let’s skip this and let’s just play a neutral-site game somewhere and keep the game.’ So it kind of was because the tournament got blown up a little bit and so we had to scramble a little bit, and we wanted to keep the game. We think it’s going to draw great, and we’re going to try to keep this game going with the Georgetown game, with Marquette, with Virginia we’re adding. I think our schedule going forward is gonna be really strong.”

On the impact of Jahmir Young on the program

“Jahmir, I mean, last year was phenomenal, but I think his junior year was really – he laid down such a great foundation for everything that we’re trying to do, everything we’re trying to build. And as good a year as he had, it’s hard to tell people he’s that much better of a kid. He’s an unbelievable leader. He’s great in the locker room, great in the community. I couldn’t ask anything more from Jahmir, whether it’s on the court or off the court, he gave the University of Maryland everything he could. He was just an absolute wonder to coach and I’m gonna miss him greatly – not only just from the basketball standpoint, but most importantly just from being around him. He was just such a good guy to be around.”

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