Terps Host Multiple Highly-Regarded Recruits & Preseason Questions
This weekend was a big one for the Maryland basketball program, as multiple highly-regarded recruits made their way to College Park. With two talented players in four-star small forward Aaron Wiggins and five-star power forward Jalen Smith having already made verbal pledges to play for Mark Turgeon, the next step is to bolster the backcourt. Among those on campus this weekend were point guard Devon Dotson and shooting guards Eric Ayala and Keldon Johnson, with Johnson being perceived (from a rankings standpoint) to be the crown jewel of the trio.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
While Johnson is the highest-rated of the three make no mistake about it, any of those players has the ability to come in and factor into the Maryland rotation as freshmen. Maryland has a total of five available scholarships for the 2018 class, and that number could very well grow when taking into consideration sophomore forward Justin Jackson’s flirtation with the NBA Draft last spring. Of the three players on the roster in their final seasons of eligibility one, Jared Nickens, is a perimeter player with Michal Cekovsky and Sean Obi being the others.
Sophomores Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, freshman Darryl Morsell and redshirt junior Dion Wiley are the current scholarship options on the perimeter who will have eligibility remaining beyond the upcoming season. There’s no denying the available talent of that quartet, especially starters Cowan and Huerter, but Maryland is in a position of need when it comes to perimeter depth in the 2018 class. Which is why this weekend’s visits are so important to the future of the program.
Below are some thoughts on Dotson, Ayala and Johnson, based upon available video footage, stats and their rankings by the major recruiting websites.
PG Devon Dotson (6-foot-2, 175 pounds)
Rankings: 24th (247Sports) / 17th (Rivals) / 18th (Scout) / 26th (ESPN)
Thoughts: Simply put Dotson is one of the best point guards in the 2018 class, due to his quickness and ability to make plays off the bounce. The Providence Day School (Charlotte, N.C.) product had a very good spring/summer on the grassroots circuit, playing primarily for Team Charlotte (Under Armour Association) with a cameo for SC Supreme (adidas Gauntlet) to play alongside Zion Williamson. An adept finisher around the basket, Dotson can break down defenses by way of either 1-on-1 matchups or in ball-screen actions.
For Team Charlotte he played for head coach Jeff McInnis, a good teacher for a point guard to have based upon McInnis’ experiences as a lead guard at both the collegiate (North Carolina) and NBA levels. Dotson tends to have the ball in his hands quite often, which may lend itself to the question of whether or not he and Cowan could play alongside each other if it ever came to that. It’s certainly possible given the talents of both players, but for Maryland to have that “problem” they’ll have to beat out the likes of Florida and Kansas for Dotson’s commitment. Dotson has also taken official visits to both of those schools, with Clemson and UCLA being in the running as well.
Both Florida and Kansas are in positions where they’ll need a point guard in the 2018 class. As for UCLA, how great of a need the Bruins will have depends upon the play of highly-regarded freshman Jaylen Hands. If he ends up being a one-and-done prospect, then the Bruins will have a greater need as well.
SG Eric Ayala (6-foot-5, 180 pounds)
Rankings: 76th (247Sports) / 68th (Rivals) / 81st (Scout) / 91st (ESPN)
Thoughts: Ayala’s listed height tends to fluctuate based upon the recruiting website, with some listing him at 6-foot-3 and 247 listing him at 6-foot-5. Ayala considered reclassifying to 2017 this summer before ultimately deciding not only to remain in the 2018 class but also transfer to IMG Academy in Florida. Ayala played his grassroots basketball for the WeR1 program on the Under Armour Association circuit, with that program producing players such as Duke freshman Trevon Duval (Kentucky freshman Quade Green spent some time with the program as well).
Considered to be a combo guard, Ayala has the ability to play either on or off the basketball depending upon what’s required of him at any given time. Ayala has solid ball-handling skills, possessing the ability to work his way through defenses off the dribble, and he’s a good shooter both off the bounce and in catch-and-shoot situations. He’s one key reason why the WeR1 program won the UA Finals two consecutive summers, and his versatility would be a nice asset for any major program to have on the perimeter.
Recruiting-wise, Ayala is also considering Miami, Ohio State, Oregon and Syracuse. Ayala’s first official visit this fall was to Miami last weekend, with trips to Ohio State, Oregon and Syracuse yet to be taken.
SG/SF Keldon Johnson (6-foot-6, 205 pounds)
Rankings: 14th (247Sports) / 18th (Rivals) / 24th (Scout) / 7th (ESPN)
Thoughts: One of the top off guards in the 2018 class, Johnson has long been on the Terps radar with assistant coach Kevin Broadus being the lead recruiter according to the major scouting outlets. Johnson’s ability as a perimeter shooter is one reason why he’s so highly sought after on the recruiting trail. And given Maryland’s past struggles in finding consistent perimeter shooting on the wings, the younger brother of Georgetown wing Kaleb Johnson is a critical recruit for the program. Keldon Johnson also has the ability to use his dribble to make plays offensively, but the perimeter shooting is the clear strength of his game right now.
As his body matures and gets stronger, Keldon Johnson should find it even easier to get to where he wants to go off the bounce. Defensively Johnson is solid if not spectacular; he can hold is own and is willing to do the work on that end of the floor. But the offense is why Johnson has received so much attention from recruiters. Last week Johnson trimmed his list down to four, with Maryland being joined by Kentucky, NC State and Texas. He’s already taken all four visits, with a trip to Austin on September 1 being followed by treks to Raleigh and Lexington coming in the weekends to follow.
Does the fact that his final official visit was to Maryland mean anything? Who’s to say, but the Terps are surely in the mix for Keldon Johnson’s commitment.
Three Preseason Questions
With practices for the 2017-18 season getting underway this weekend, college basketball season has officially gotten underway. Maryland’s looking not only for its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament bid but also its first Big Ten regular season title. Achieving the latter will be difficult, with Michigan State viewed by many as the early favorite with Minnesota, defending regular season champion Purdue and Northwestern among the contenders. Here are three quick questions I have for Maryland as practices begin.
1. Are the sophomores ready to lead?
This is the biggest question for me, especially with Melo Trimble now looking to earn a roster spot in the NBA. Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played quite well as freshmen, earning spots in the starting lineup but somehow not being named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team. The tangible skills of all three will be the focal point for some, but what’s also key is whether or not they’ll be ready to grab the reins as team leaders from an “intangibles” standpoint. Cowan, as the starting point guard, will be key in this regard. He’ll have more on his plate when it comes to getting guys in the places they need to be in order to be successful both individually and collectively. Is he ready for that responsibility? Huerter and Jackson, with the latter entertaining the thought of going pro before withdrawing from the NBA Draft, will need to be more vocal as well.
2. Can the front court newcomers hit the ground running?
This one’s big as well, with grad transfer Sean Obi and four-star freshman Bruno Fernando being in positions where they’ll need to contribute immediately. Obi, who began his college career as Conference USA’s top freshman at Rice before transferring to Duke, hasn’t seen much playing time since that debut season. Obi only played in ten games as a Blue Devil, with injuries and limited opportunities when healthy being the reasons why. Can he stay healthy, and is Maryland getting a player on par with the one who excelled at Rice? That remains to be seen. As for Fernando, his ability to run the floor, defend and rebound the basketball will be of high value for this year’s team. If he’s ready to go immediately, that would be of major help to the Terps.
Michal Cekovsky and Ivan Bender were part of the rotation last season, and Joshua Tomaic will look to earn minutes after redshirting in 2016-17. Justin Jackson’s the one known in the front court, and Maryland can use him at the four as they did on many occasions last season. And if the aforementioned big men are ready to step forward, Jackson could even be used at the three in a “bigger” lineup with Huerter at the two on occasion.
3. Can either Jared Nickens or Dion Wiley step forward?
It feels like we’ve been asking this question for a couple years now, and both have struggled to find the level of consistency needed to be factors in the rotation (Wiley’s dealt with injuries as well). In the case of Nickens this is it, as he’s entering his senior season with Wiley being a redshirt junior. The arrival of Darryl Morsell gives Maryland another perimeter option, but given the team’s numbers the Terps really need at least one of these veterans to step forward. Nickens’ field goal percentage has dropped in each of his first three seasons at Maryland, with the senior shooting 32.7 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from three. It should come as no surprise that he only played ten minutes per game given those numbers. As for Wiley, he shot 32.2 percent form the field and 37.5 percent from three in 20 games last season.
As has been the case in the past the opportunities will be there for both Nickens and Wiley to carve out larger roles for themselves in the Maryland offense. This season however, failing to do so could make things even more difficult for the Terrapins than in seasons past.