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Introducing Maryland's Incoming 2012 Freshmen: Shaquille Cleare

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Mark Turgeon's first class was a monster, a six-man behemoth that is arguably Maryland's most promising in the last decade. But if you don't follow recruiting, the six will-be-freshmen aren't much more than names. Over the next six days, we'll be overviewing the class, recruit by recruit, introducing the newest batch of Terrapins to their future fanbase. We start with Maryland's most highly-regarded in years, the big Bahamian Shaq Cleare.

Name: Shaquille Cleare
Height: 6-8
Weight: 278
HS: The Village School (Richmond, Tx.)
From: Nassau, The Bahamas
AAU: Houston Defenders, an Under Armour-sponsored team also featuring superstar recruits Andrew and Aaron Harrison
Position: C
Committed: Aug 24, 2011
Rankings: 247: , #9 PF, #36 overall; ESPN: , #8 C, #30 overall; Rivals: , #13 C, #53 overall; Scout: , #11 C, #37 overally; BIAH Consensus: #35 overall

Strengths: Cleare's biggest and most obvious strength is his size and strength, without a doubt. Though 6-8 isn't great at center, his 280-pound frame is simply overpowering, and few will be able to spar with him in the post. He has very good physical tools all around, actually: he carries his weight well, has very soft hands, has light and nimble feet, and, most of all, has a nice touch around the rim. While not a high-flyer by any stretch, he's not deficient athletically, as his monstrous jam on Nerlens Noel should show. But his biggest asset is, again, his size and strength: he's a textbook space-eater, and that largely defines his game in almost every facet right now. He's fairly straightforward offensively, but can use his body to gain position on the blocks for dunks and easy putbacks. Defensively, he's able to push smaller players out of the post and into bad position, something Maryland could've used last year when their front court was being eaten alive by Duke and Carolina. His most college-ready trait, though, is probably rebounding. He's productive area rebounder, smart about positioning and tough to move once he establishes himself; throw in those soft hands, and he has double-digit rebound potential. His size and willingness to do dirty work down low also makes his teammates better, likely allowing potential front-court partners Alex Len and Evan Smotrycz to indulge their face-up tendencies. Lastly, he's a quiet, humble kid, and a hard worker who is purportedly very coachable.
Weaknesses: Like most big high-schoolers, Cleare could stand to work on his conditioning. A bit reminiscent of a young Jordan Williams, it's tough to imagine Cleare, as he currently stands, averaging 25 minutes a game at the ACC level. Dragging that 280 up and down the floor isn't an easy task, and he can tire quickly. His game is built around size and strength, so you want him to retain that; but he'd do well to get more defined, lose a bit of fat, and build up his stamina, the same way Williams did. He probably needs to refine his offensive game, as well. He's pretty straightforward at this point on the block, and is a bit of a garbageman when it comes to getting points. That's actually good, but with that size and touch he can be a go-to option in the post if he develops his skill on the blocks. Girth is an equalizer for bigs, but with his lack of elite height or athleticism he'll need to have top-notch technique to reach his full potential.
Interesting Storyline:
Cleare has a great story, as told by the Washington Post, as a kid from the Bahamas who came over to play basketball in high school and very nearly gave it up while living in difficult circumstances. But my favorite part of that story will always be that he said he cried when Gary Williams retired. (Me too, big man. Me too.) Bonus: he already wants to beat Duke!
Comparison: There's been a bit of a wide-body revival in recent years in the college game, with guys like Jared Sullinger, Jordan Williams, and to a lesser extent Reggie Johnson and Joshua Smith all finding varying levels of success. Perhaps it's due to my Maryland fandom, but I can't help but see a lot of Williams in Cleare. Their games are very similar, right down to the preference for a drop-step and their sneakily nice touch around the rim, but the good news is that Cleare has probably about an inch plus a good twenty pounds or so on Williams at the same point. If Maryland's lucky and Shaq puts in the work, Cleare should be able to do everything J-Will did, and, thanks to a superior body, perhaps be a bit more effective at it to boot.
Prediction: I can't see him starting right out of the gate, both because Alex Len and James Padgett seem well-entrenched and because I'm not sure he can handle the minutes right now. (Remember how Len, who is rail-thin in comparison, got tired after 20 minutes at the ACC level. That effect has to be at least doubled for Cleare.) But his body is ready to contribute right now, more so than any other of Maryland's incoming freshmen. He should challenge Ashton Pankey to be the first big man off the bench, and given his ability to counter guys like Mason Plumlee and Richard Howell, he'll almost certainly be used situationally on defense. Past that, though, you have to think he's in the pole position for a starting spot as a sophomore, and I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be an all-ACC type by his junior year.
In a Turtleshell: Cleare is a rare prospect, a throw-back center with great size and significant potential. He'll happily man the middle, do dirty work, and overpower more slender opponents, which will give Maryland freedom to play a face-up four. But he has the potential to put up big numbers in his own right, and could be a double-double type with the right coaching and progression. His conditioning and ability to refine his offensive game will likely determine just how high he goes in College Park. Worst-case, he ends up as a space-eating role player, a rich man's Braxton Dupree; but if progresses as you'd expect, he's a potential impact player at this level and possible future pro.

Useful Links: 247 | ESPN | Rivals | Scout | VYPE Magazine feature | Recruiting Report commitment story | WaPo feature | Under Armour combine results