Maryland basketball tabbed as team that could overachieve in 2023-24

In exactly one week, Maryland basketball will kick off year two of the Kevin Willard era. The preseason buzz has pegged the Terps as a fringe top-25 team, while the Terps landed third in the annual Big Ten preseason media poll. While the Terps will look to eclipse the 20-win mark for the 32nd consecutive season, a feat that Willard became the first Maryland coach to do in his first season, Maryland remains a popular sleeper pick heading into November as Jon Rothstein tabbed the Terps as a team who could overachieve this season.

“Challenging Purdue and Michigan State for a Big Ten regular season title isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Terps. Three starters — Jahmir Young, Donta Scott, and Julian Reese — are back from last season’s team that won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Kevin Willard also adds a strong freshman class, headlined by a pair of potential starters in DeShawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser. The 6-5 Harris-Smith could wind up being the best newcomer in the Big Ten. Willard has experience, youth, and improved depth. After winning 21 games in his inaugural season in College Park, the 48-year-old head coach feels primed to take another step.”

Young and Reese were both named to the All-Big Ten preseason team, with Young one of four unanimous selections and the first for Maryland since Anthony Cowan in 2019. Fifth-year senior Donta Scott has routinely been praised by Willard for his progress through the offseason. “Everyone’s talking about Jahmir and Julian for good reasons, and the freshman for good reasons, but Donta Scott’s had a great offseason. I think he’s poised to really have a breakout season even though he’s a senior,” Willard said at Maryland’s media day.

In addition to the returnees and freshmen, former Indiana forward Jordan Geronimo is expected to play a key role in the frontcourt as Willard noted the added physicality and athleticism he’s brought to practice.

“We really wanted to have someone that knew how to play the game, but at the same time could really help us athletically and Jordan, although he’s not 6-foot-11, Jordan is as athletic as a player as I’ve seen in a while. So we played him at the five against Cincinnati the other day and he was great. I can play him at the four, I can play the three. Defensively. I can play in one through five. So he’s just one of those guys that like, I call him the Swiss Army knife. He can kind of do a little bit of everything. And he’s really helped us in the fact that he knows the league. He’s been through it. And so I think any time you can get someone that understands this level of college basketball, and how physical and how much of a grind this league is. He’s been great because he kind of understands what’s going on.”

With a revamped coaching staff and roster, Maryland was able to iron out the early kinks during the Italy trip during the beginning of August as the team coasted in all three exhibition games. Willard joked that the Terps “were playing against Mario and Luigi” during Monday’s radio show, but allowing the roster to gel helped accelerate the acclimation process.

“I think what you do that for is a) to give these kids in an unbelievable experience to kind of see something outside of what their comfort zone is. And then b) it’s really team building. It’s trying to get these guys to normal a little bit. Who interacts well? Who can room together? Who likes to go out and have fun who likes to stay in? So really that’s the basketball thing was great, but more or less, it’s a great experience for these young men and it’s also great for us as coaches to kind of see what their personalities are like.”

While Willard will look to lean on his experience coaching in the conference heading into year two, NIL continues to be an area that the second-year head coach has gradually grasped with it becoming so integral to both high school and portal recruiting.

“The NIL was really changed everything in college sports, not just basketball, obviously football. It’s sprinkled down into the Olympic sports a lot now. That’s probably been the biggest challenge is the fact that when I came from Seton Hall, I knew we had a collective and some guys were getting some money and working for it and doing stuff like that. But just where it’s exploded to where guys are now, whether it’s college football players are making $2 million, some basketball players are making a million dollars. That money has to come from somewhere and really what it’s become is almost like full-time fundraising. You always fundraise for your program. You always had to do things for charters, or if you wanted to build something, a new practice facility, you had to go out and fundraise. But this on a level that, as my wife said the other day, she’s like, ‘there’s no way this can continue because you can’t be out four nights a week, try to coach, try to be a father and try to raise money for NIL.’ The NIL has really drastically changed what college coaching is all about. I’m all for it. I’m glad that I I’ve been saying it for years. I think the kids should have been getting a very large piece of the NCAA Tournament money for a long time. The NCAA Tournament money should be split up and given back to the college kids. It should not be given to the schools, it should be given to the kids. And I don’t think there should be collectives. I don’t think there should be limits on what they can do NIL-wise, but I just don’t think what we’re doing now is true NIL. It’s just not. So I think there’s better ways that we could be getting what these kids deserve. And at the same time, not negating what they can earn from there from their real name, image and likeness.”

More from Willard’s radio show on Monday:

On whether NIL has come up recruiting

“The funny thing is Jahnathan’s class, no. Everything with Jahnathan, Jamie [Kaiser Jr.], and DeShawn [Harris-Smith] and Braden [Pierce] was no, it was all recruiting and was all about fit and wanting them, them wanting to be here. Unfortunately just where the market has gone and what’s going on is now, yes, that’s the first thing kids will say. It’s the first thing that if the kid doesn’t say it, then the high school coach, the parents are willing to ask. I know around town what’s going on, what people are talking about. Fit or getting you better or playing a fun style or playing one of the greatest, in my experiences, college basketball towns that you can be in is irrelevant now. It’s unfortunately turned down to just that, a money game.”

On offseason coaching changes

“Yeah. I mean, that was the other part of the offseason that was kind of, which was exciting. I had three assistants get head coaching jobs, which is phenomenal. That just never happens but that also kind of disrupts the flow of what was going on a little bit. So Grant [Billmeier], [Tony] Skinn went down to Mason…the big thing was Greg, I have known Greg for a while and losing Grant, it just seemed like a natural progression for Greg to move back up, get him into the assistant coaching spot and then. The big thing with me with David [Cox] was I wanted David and Tony really worked well. They understood the area. So I wanted somebody that a) was a good coach and b) knew the area. But most importantly that could really work well with David. I have such respect for David Cox. The coach he is in, the job that he does, but I didn’t want to bring someone new when that didn’t know the area or was a different personality. And so the big thing for me was trying to find the right guy. And Mike [Jones] had been with Mike Young at Virginia Tech, who was a phenomenal basketball coach. Great guy. And so bringing him back, just made the staff complete. Now I’ve had a lot of work and just get Greg back up to speed to what with everything Grant did, get Mike up to speed and how we do things. So that’s been a little bit of an added kind of stress in my life but those guys are working hard and they’re going to be great.”

[cont].

Mike comes in. He’s been doing something totally different. Greg, really pumped up and has to get on the recruiting trail. Director of basketball ops, you’re not allowed to do. So, yeah, staffs great. Very glad to have everybody. I think, you know, again, Italy was good for the staff too, to kind of get everyone’s personality…My assistants, I don’t want just to recruit. You know, I want guys that can be on the floor to help these guys get in drills.

On the upcoming 2023-24 schedule 

“This was the last round that Mark [Turgeon] has scheduled and he scheduled because it helped us get into Maui in ’26. So it’s just a weird timing because you’d like to get a couple of games under your belt, but a really good tournament, looking forward to get down there.

The tough thing is I think we have Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue during break. Three really good games that were at home during the break so we were going to have to pack Xfinity center for those because our home site is tough.

That’s the hard thing about our home schedule this year was, with playing at Nova and the Gavitt games on the 17th and going at UCLA, we really had to balance the home schedule with those two road games. I was playing on the 9th and 11th and the tournament was tough because we had an opportunity to schedule a really good home at home on Thanksgiving weekend. We just couldn’t pull it off because of so many tournament’s going on. So non-conferences, it is going to be tough. We’re going to have to, again, one of my biggest things for this team is to play much better on the road. We didn’t play well in Big Ten play on the road last year. I think that really hurt us. Obviously, we were a rebound away against Penn State to come in at second place. But it tells you how tough the conference is—you go from missing a rebound and coming in second or finishing eighth. It just shows you how competitive this league is. The home slate I think is good for this team because what I learned after last year was Big Ten, the two Big Ten games [in] early December is that you need a break. We played at Louisville, Illinois, at Wisconsin, neutral Tennessee and then UCLA home. It was just brutal. You need a little bit of break for your kids for a couple of reasons. Either the semester’s almost over, so they’re getting ready for finals. They’re kind of spent from that standpoint. And they’re just getting over the first month of the season. So the schedule is good. Next year, you know, we’re hoping to start a series with Georgetown that will go for a long time. Maybe make it the home open or something like that…we’ll get there. Ed Cooley and I are really tight. I think he understands. And I definitely understand the importance for that game in this area. And then we might be going to a 22-game conference schedule, maybe. So that will change things dramatically.”

On preseason games

“I would love for college basketball to have four exhibition groups. To really have four weekends leading up to have exhibition games. To be able to play on a Saturday or Sunday in front of crowds, be able to do those games on TV because it’s so much more healthier for our student-athletes because all we do on weekends is do two-a-days and beat each other up. I’d rather go play someone else, you learn about your team. I think it’d be a great way to get college basketball revved it up a little bit more than us just going right into the season.”

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