The Maryland basketball program got a commitment Friday evening from Diamond Stone, the No. 2-ranked center in the country according to the 247Sports Composite and a consensus top-10 overall player. This is cataclysmic news.
The Terps had a nice comeback season in 2014-15, and they've figured all along to be pretty good next season. The presumed (albeit not officially confirmed) return of guard Melo Trimble gives them a national player of the year candidate, while forwards Jake Layman and Robert Carter Jr. should be stars as upperclassmen. With Stone onboard, Maryland goes from a team likely to be good to a very serious national championship contender. That's right: the Maryland Terrapins have a real shot at riding out a top-five national ranking and playing in the Final Four next year.
At its highest echelons, college basketball is trending toward in-and-out recruits who bring high-flying reputations to campus, dominate for a year or two and leave for the NBA Draft. Kentucky has cobbled together a world-beating team full of these players this year, and comparable programs like Duke, Kansas and North Carolina have been blessed with them intermittently throughout this era. For the first time, Maryland has its own new toy to play with. Stone probably won't be around for long, but he'll make his time in College Park count.
Stone is a star, and he's going to be outrageously good from almost day one. High school players sometimes arrive at the next level raw and struggle to adjust, whether they're top-rated studs or three-star lottery tickets. Kentucky commit Skal Labissiere might be better-suited for immediate success than Stone, but no other incoming big man can match the Maryland commit's pedigree. The Milwaukee product is listed at 6 feet 10 inches and about 250 pounds now, and he'll probably get bigger by the time he's winning next season's opening tip for Mark Turgeon's team.
He's going to be a defensive powerhouse from the outset. Offense takes a bit longer, even for someone as skilled as Stone, who can already do stuff like this. But he'll score plenty, especially by the offensively inept standards of college centers. Maryland had almost no post offense last season, and Stone is a decent bet to score in double figures right away while posting a rebound rate near the top of the Big Ten. Scouting reports on Stone say he's an adept finisher around the rim who can score with his back to the basket. Team him with Carter, and Maryland's starting front-court will be the envy of something like 345 of 351 teams in the country. At least.
Stone is as serious a prospect as Maryland has ever recruited, and he should be one of the best freshmen in the country next season. More than that, though, he rounds out Maryland's lineup and makes the Terps a clear favorite in the Big Ten and a very likely top-five ranker in preseason – and midseason – polls. He will make beautiful music on pick-and-roll plays with Trimble and give Maryland's offense a new interior dimension. By pairing Stone with Carter and moving Layman to his former small forward spot, Maryland's lousy rebounding from the past season should turn into a major strength.
Stone's presence probably pushes Damonte Dodd from the starting lineup to the bench, where he could team with Michal Cekovsky to give the Terps a long front-court rotation with lots of depth. With Wisconsin set to lose between two and four of its five best players from this season, Maryland should battle with Ohio State and Michigan State at the top of the league. But on paper, the Terps are noticeably better than all of them.
Even further, Stone gives Maryland credibility. If they face no transfers or NBA declarations in the coming weeks, the Terps will be an elite team whether they make more additions or not. But the Terps have been active in the sport's transfer period recently, and it makes sense that they'd add another major player or two before the season starts. With Stone, Maryland's roster is an even easier sell.
Maryland has a chance to win the national title next season, and nobody's about to keep that quiet. Hype doesn't mean much on the court, but it certainly helps to attract fresh talent. So if things seem good for Maryland right now, don't forget they could still get a lot better.