When freshman point guard Jamal Branch announced his intentions to transfer from Texas A&M last week, chatter immediately started up about him maybe rejoining the man who recruited him to College Station, Mark Turgeon. I had dismissed it at the time, but last night news crept out that Branch is considering Maryland, along with St. John's, Arizona, and Marquette.
So that's interesting. You know what else is interesting? Branch will visit College Park next weekend. Assuming he times it right, that means he should be in town for the Georgia Tech game, which is good news insofar as the Yellow Jackets are one of the very few ACC teams Maryland should be expected to defeat.
He's an interesting case, as the visit would indicate that there's some measure of mutual interest. Given that Turgeon originally recruited him, I'm assuming he likes Branch's game a fair amount, and I'm sure Branch also likes Turgeon well enough. Unless he decides right away and somehow enrolls before the spring semester starts (any current students know any deadlines on that?), he'd have to sit out a year and wouldn't be eligible until the 2013-14 season.
Of course, that's the same year the Harrison twins would arrive on campus, wherever they decide to go. I would assume that neither party would have any interest in creating a point guard backlog by taking two elite, starter-worthy guys in the same class, so taking Branch could be akin to waving the white flag on the Harrison twins - something that, frankly, I wouldn't be prepared to do. Then again, I'm not Mark Turgeon, and he surely knows more than me.
If it turns out that, for whatever reason, the staff is receptive to taking Branch's commitment, it needs to be said: he's pretty talented. In fact, he's probably my favorite non-Harrison the staff is looking at right now, a group that includes guys like Rysheed Jordan and Tyler Ennis. Branch was a top-50 type in the 2011 class; he was #47 on Scout, #51 on ESPN, and #65 on Rivals, with offers from Arizona, Baylor, Florida, Memphis, Oklahoma, and even some schools like Duke and Kansas, if his Rivals profile can be believed. That's pretty impressive.
The most important thing is that he's a true point guard, something that Maryland really seems to lack desperately right now. Pe'Shon Howard is good but a bit unsteady at times, while Terrell Stoglin is a 2 at heart and Seth Allen is more of a combo than a true point. Branch is renowned for his great passing and decision-making, which sounds pretty much like a perfect Mark Turgeon point guard. He definitely looks for others' shot before his own, and with his size - a legit 6-3 - he can see over most defenses. (Gotta love tall point guards, right?) Given that most of the guys still on Maryland's radar - Sam Cassell, Jr., Jordan, Kam Williams, Roddy Peters, etc. - have combo tendencies to them, Branch would be a pretty nice coup and be a critical piece while building toward the future.
Again, I feel like it's basically giving the Harrisons to Kentucky without much of a fight, something that I wouldn't do. But Turgeon hasn't made a bad decision yet, so if he does go down that road, I'll more or less trust his decision-making.
Now, there's another point guard announcing today, a little fella you might've heard of named Aquille Carr. Some people are hyping up that he could choose Maryland, which I guess is feasible given that Joe Davis knows a lot more than me and I'm not really in a position to say he's wrong. That said, I really don't see the logic in there: between Carr's purported grades issues, his style of play, his height, and the quality of other options on the board, I'd think Maryland would look a different way.
If Carr does pick Maryland, the world will be sufficiently shocked. If he doesn't, I'll look forward to him toasting kids at whatever level he lands.
Keeping on this whole guard slant, one thing I never really talked about was Maryland's interest in two foreign JuCo prospects, which Adam Zagoria brought up a few weeks ago. There's Orlando Sanchez, a 6-9 power forward from the Dominican Republic, but I'm more interested in his teammate, 6-6 French wing Marco Bourgault.
I like Bourgault for four reasons, actually. To start with, he's French, so allez les blues and all that. I'm also ridiculously biased in that regard, so take everything I say from here on out with a grain of salt. Anyway, my other reasons: Maryland could really use some immediate backup off the bench at guard; he averaged 18 ppg at Notre Dame Prep, which is comparable to what Maryland's other big guard target, Sam Cassell, Jr., is doing there now; and he's a flat-out, knock-down shooter. Maryland really needs one of those. A lot of people probably expected that to be Nick Faust - I know I did - but of course that didn't work out. If anything happens to Terrell Stoglin, Maryland will be utterly sniper-less next year, unless Seth Allen is as good as advertised and then some. Bourgault is a little one-dimensional - he's only taken 25 non-threes through 10 games - but he's shooting 40% from deep and really knows how to pick his spots on the floor. He's a role player to the max, but that's a role Maryland is in desperate need of right now.
Sanchez is also a target, but I'm not nearly as concerned about finding an athletic 4 man as I am about finding a crazy-good outside shooter right now.
Another possible target at that knock-down shooter spot is Darrick Wood, a D.C. kid who was formerly committed to St. John's. He decommitted from SJU last night - on that note, what's up with literally everyone decommitting from SJU? - and says he's already heard from UConn, Memphis, and, yes, Maryland.
Wood is a 6-4 2-guard, and Rivals consistently calls him a "born scorer." He's a microwave at the 2, like a Stoglin with size, and has a very good outside shot. There's a fair amount of disagreement on how good he really is; he's a four-star and #104 nationally on Rivals, only a three-star on Rivals, and a two-star on ESPN. That said, his offer sheet is impressive enough for me to think he has a pretty big future at the high-major level.
Frankly, I still like a guy like Bourgault sight unseen, just because of his size and the fact that he'd space out the scholarships a bit more. Wood, of course, is quite impressive in his own right, and they'd both fill a pretty big hole in the team right now.
If you're a fan of big men, well, there's not as much out there for you. Charles Mitchell has been pretty quiet, and 2013 prospects like BeeJay Anya haven't made much progress either. The only thing I can offer you: looks like Maryland's given up on the JaKarr Sampson race. Just as well; I did love his athleticism, but he was far from a must-get type.
I wouldn't expect too much movement in recruiting between now and spring; between Turgeon & Co. having to worry about their own teams and the high school prospects in the middle of their own seasons, there's usually a bit of a slowdown. It is great visit-taking season, though, so hopefully a few big names roll through for an ACC game or two.