Willard Talks Maryland Basketball’s Progress, Donta’s Transformation, Backcourt Depth

Maryland basketball continues to gel together with its first scrimmage in the books and the second and final scrimmage looming for this weekend. Senior forward Donta Scott said the Terps “did a lot of good things, but we also messed up a couple times but that’s what you expect for a team coming in early and trying to figure out some pieces.” Willard has been transparent that getting the roster acclimated to the new style and tempo has been one of, if not, the biggest challenges so far this offseason but isn’t letting the early hiccups deter him and his staff.

“Even though short term you might not have success, that doesn’t deter you from what your long-term goals are. You never lose focus. Every day you wake up in this program, we are determined to focus on what our ultimate goal is this year, next year, year after, year after. So you might have some bumps in the road, but any good leader will tell you that you should never, ever lose focus on what the ultimate goal is.”

Work to Implement Willard’s Style of Play

Fans have been eagerly awaiting the new style of play with Willard and the new staff installing the new system, but Willard has been transparent that he has several new pieces still gelling together and learning how to play Maryland basketball. “We have eight guys that have played 11 different systems of basketball all trying to get under one,” he added on Thursday. Maryland will look to iron out the preseason kinks with one scrimmage down against Virginia where the Terps fell by six, but they’ll have a second opportunity this upcoming weekend against Villanova for the second and final ‘secret’ scrimmage. Still, Willard provided a breath of fresh air with transparency that his team is “a little bit behind this time of year.”

“I don’t think anyone ever feels, unless you have a team that’s got four juniors and four seniors that have been with you for three years, then you probably, you’re probably bored. The rest of us are not sleeping really well at night just because it’s just one thing after another that you gotta try and get done. But I will say, I’ve been pleasantly pleased with this group with their understanding of how much we have to do. So, I think that’s been probably the best thing about this group is they know that, you know, we’re so far away from being a good team, but at the same time, they haven’t had a bad attitude about anything. They just, they kind of understand where we are.”

Offseason Transformation for Donta Scott

After dropping over 25 pounds and dropping from 16% to 9% body fat this offseason heading into his senior season, Maryland will need to lean on its senior forward for scoring with Jahmir Young capitalizing at the top of the key. For Donta, a versatile forward with an inside-out touch, this offseason provided him a chance to develop himself into a versatile prospect at the next level too. “My main focus with him was that he has a game that can play in the NBA. He did not have a body that could play in the NBA and our total focus this offseason was to get his body into a place where he can play 35 minutes and not just play 35 minutes but play 35 effective minutes.”

Scott knows the necessary body transformation was step one and he’s tackling the on-court development ahead of the season. “Looking strong and looking fit is two different from just moving your feet. So, me looking fit and me being strong, I also have to work on my lateral movement as well, so just working on my body won’t get the job done. But working with Kyle with my feet work and all that, will lead me to be a way better defender.”

It’s big shoes for the Terps’ veteran but the expectations are warranted for the team’s leader after he was named to the Karl Malone Award List on Thursday, becoming one of three Big Ten players selected to the 20-man list. Scott is coming off a career-best 6.2 rebounds per game and is the top returning scorer after averaging 12.6 points last season.

Confidence in Backcourt Depth

It’s no surprise that Jahmir Young and Don Carey step into the starting spots vacated by Eric Ayala and Fatts Russell, but the Terps have depth behind both with Ian Martinez and Jahari Long stepping in. After getting tested as a point guard, Martinez has a chance to shine as the athletic two-guard who can capitalize in transition, but Willard credited his defensive efforts as the second-year guard has a chance to start at times alongside Young.

“Ian’s like our energizer bunny. You know, he’s a guy that can really come off the bench or even start at times,” Willard added. “I think he’s gonna have a chance to start plenty of games. Has really worked hard on his footwork and his shooting, he’s shooting at basketball really well, but for us right now, his role is to be, come in and guard the best guard. Bring a lot of energy, bring a lot of athleticism. He’s accepted that role and he is really excelling at it.”

As for Jahari Long, he joins Willard and assistant Grant Billmeier as a transfer from Seton Hall. It’s a bonus that he brings his knowledge of how Willard operates and what he wants to instill in College Park, but it isn’t the reason he landed in College Park. “I love Jahari as a young man and when he went into the portal, it was a quick phone call to his mom and to him to see if he wants to take the opportunity here, but it wasn’t that I needed someone like that. It was just the more or less having a great young man on your team and a very good player.”

Maryland will need another scorer off the bench, but Donta pointed to Long’s ability to create shots for others. “He’s very good at creating for others and just maneuvering off ball screens. But he brings a toughness to the team as well with just being ready to step on the court and try to make the right plays.

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