Kevin Willard on roster construction, freshman class, goals for Jahmir Young

Maryland basketball will kick off the 2023-24 season on Nov. 7 for a 7 PM tipoff against Mount St. Mary’s as Kevin Willard turns the page to year two as head coach of the program.

Jahmir Young is one of six players to return from last year’s 22-win team and headlines the starting five alongside Julian Reese and Donta Scott, while the additions of DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr. have helped the Terps reload heading into the season.

“Excited about this year’s team. Had a really good off season, got to go to Italy. We really were able to make some good strides with our roster, in the portal really good group of freshmen, so really excited about this team and this year. I think we have a good challenge,” Willard said in his rare opening statement.

One day after Maryland was picked to finish third in the preseason Big Ten media poll, Willard took the podium and discussed roster construction, player expectations and Jahmir Young’s focus for the season.

On roster construction from year one to year two

“When you get a job nowadays, it’s really difficult because [of] the transfer portal. So guys can leave, you can get guys. Julian’s one of those special young men that loves Maryland, obviously grew up in Baltimore. I knew he had great potential. I didn’t what his work ethic was like and Julian has an unbelievable work ethic. And I think he just kept working all year, all year, all year. And I think everyone saw the great strides that he took and really become one of the best big men in the league.”

On whether work ethic helped Reese become an impact player

“I think opportunity had a lot to do with it. We weren’t an overly big team last year. I wanted to play him some at power forward, which we’re going to do this year. We’re going to play him a little bit at power forward at times this year. So I think the opportunity was there and he took it., And again, he’s a very smart basketball player but he’s an extremely hard worker and he just saw the opportunity. He wanted it and really never got down, frustrated. I mean, the league last year, he went a three-[game] stretch against Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, against those three big guys and he came out of those three games and he outplayed just about all three of those guys. And I think he got a lot of confidence out of that and [it] just kind of fueled his fire to keep on working.”

On Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo

“The thing we talked about as a staff that was really important after we lost [to] Alabama in the NCAA tournament was we really needed to change our athleticism. I had a great team last year, they were so fun to coach, but there [were] some limits on what we could do physically and athletically. And when Jordan went into the portal, I had known Jordan just from being at Seton Hall and him being from Newark. I know his mom and it was just one of those things, he was one of those guys that just was going to be a game changer for us. And Jordan so far is, I mean, our practices, we haven’t practiced longer than an hour and 26 minutes because our practices are so athletic and so physical…I have a lineup with Donta Scott, Jordan Geronimo, Julian [Reese], and Mady Traore. I mean we are big and physical and Jordan’s changed the way we play. He’s that good of a player. He’s shooting the basketball great. He’s skilled. More than anything, he’s just changed our roster just by adding him.”

On DeShawn Harris-Smith, freshmen class

“Our freshman class, it’s the best freshman class I’ve ever had. DeShawn Harris-Smith is by far the most talented player, probably the most physically gifted basketball player I’ve ever been able to coach so far. Jamie Kaiser [Jr.] was a former quarterback and played football. They’ve been able to come in with Jordan, and really kind of embrace how we want to play, the level we want to play at. Like I said, practice has been unbelievable. We’ve just, we can’t go that long cause they’re so competitive, they’re so physical. We look like a Big Ten team where last year, we had to really fight to be a Big Ten team. This year we look like a Big Ten team and I think we can compete a little bit higher level because of that.”

On mindset for PG Jahmir Young heading into 2023-24

“I think our mindset for Jahmir is a little bit more individual. I mean, we’re looking for him to take the next step for him to become an NBA player. So, we all have team goals. We all say the same BS, you want to win a championship in the Big Ten stuff. I think everyone has that goal. But for me, with Jahmir, Donta, Julian, some of the freshmen, it’s a little bit more individual this year. I’m looking for them to take the next step in their game so they can get to the NBA, they can have a professional career. So, for me, it’s a little bit more selfish. I’m looking at it a little bit differently. When you have kids that have come into your program, guys like Donta Scott, who I think no one’s even talking about Donta, and he’s playing at a level that’s, he’s in the best shape of his career. Guys like Jahmir, you want them to be very successful after they leave you. So, yes, we have team goals. Yes, we have what we want to do, but for Jahmir, Donta, Julian, we’re looking for them to take the next step so they can become NBA players or pro. So that’s the way I look at it for those guys.”

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