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Donta Scott enters critical junior year, both for himself and Maryland men’s basketball

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Scott returns for his third season with the Terps.

Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics

Maryland basketball’s Donta Scott has been through the stresses of high school basketball, the long stretches of AAU basketball in July, and in the last two years, a difficult college basketball schedule in one of the best conferences in the country.

But no season has Scott’s performance been more crucial for his future and his team's success than the 2021-22 season that tips off on Nov. 9 against Quinnipiac.

Scott enters the season as the versatile forward Maryland hopes can lead them to the top of the Big Ten conference and as the three level scorer, Scott has proven to be.

Last spring, Maryland fans across the country awaited the decision of Aaron Wiggins as he progressed through the draft process. Eventually, Wiggins announced he would forgo his senior year and enter the NBA draft. It was a substantial loss for the Terps as Wiggins was one of the best wing players in the country. Many early rankings had Maryland as a top-five team in the country if Wiggins returned.

When Wiggins made that decision, it was clear who needed to elevate his responsibilities and take on more of a scoring role for the Terps to return to prominence. There was never a question the 6-foot-8, 230 pound forward from Philadelphia would step into an increased role.

And in Scott’s third season with the Terps, he is more than capable of assuming that pressure and burden on a nightly basis, even though he doesn't feel the weight of the offense on his shoulders because of the influx of talent he has around him.

“I feel as though it’s a team collective,” Scott said. “A lot of guys can score in multiple ways and I can score in multiple ways. It’s just what certain people need at certain times.”

Head coach Mark Turgeon called Scott one of the most improved players he’s ever coached from his freshman season until now. That’s a testament to Scott’s development as a do-it-all force that he had to develop into last year while playing out of position.

“He [Donta] was a one out of every four day guy as a freshman and he was an every other day guy last year,” Turgeon said. “This year, he's four out of five or sometimes five out of five during a week, working, doing the right thing, leadership, practicing hard.”

Last season, Maryland did not have a traditional center or serviceable big man on its roster. Instead, they often went with small lineups that forced Scott into the center position, guarding daunting Big Ten bigs and playing under the basket offensively. While, according to Turgeon, Scott never complained, that is not his natural position and certainly not the spot he came to Maryland to play.

Despite that, Scott still averaged 11 points and just under six rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from deep on 3.6 attempts per game last season. That was a dramatic increase from 5.9 points per game on 31% shooting from three his sophomore season.

“I started as a center when I was younger, so it wasn't too difficult,” Scott said. “I’m used to just having that grit and that mentality to just being able to stop a lot of people.”

Scott is an explosive forward with a big frame, and while he’s capable of playing bully ball and getting to the rim, he has a nice stroke that makes him a threat on the perimeter.

Scott and senior guard Eric Ayala are the two top returning scorers for Maryland, and this team, and offense, will go as far as those guys take them, particularly Scott. No one on the team has as dynamic of a skill set as Scott, who can score in a multitude of ways, is a strong rebounder and can defend multiple positions.

“He’s gotten a lot better,” Turgeon said. “He can do things one-on-one, he’s one of the elite shooters in the Big Ten... and he can score in a variety of ways, he can back guys down, he can score off the dribble, shoot threes, we can post him up. So, I think he’s going to have a great year.”

Sure, Scott’s improvement on the stat sheet can be telling of how he’s progressed in his three years in the program. But Scott has also grown into a leader and emerged as a vocal guy the team can look to, improvements that won’t show up on a box score. Scott, along with junior guard Hakim Hart, is the second longest-tenured guy on the Terps’ roster.

“I’ve always been a vocal leader, it’s just I never had to be because I had other guys being leaders like Wiggs, Ant [Anthony Cowan Jr.], ... and Darryl,” Scott said. “So, when I needed to talk, I would just talk in the background while they talked in the front. Now, I just feel as though I can give my voice now instead of just trying to be in the background. Sometimes it’s better to listen, sometimes it’s better to lead.”

Scott’s performance this year for the Terps will in many ways determine how far Maryland goes. But his performance won’t just help Maryland basketball take the next step, it will also help him figure out his future beyond College Park.

Scott is projected on most early mock drafts to go late second round, and some he isn't projected to be drafted at all, but if he takes another leap and asserts himself as one of the better players in the Big Ten — which many people expect him to do — he will quickly find his way onto scouts’ boards.

It may be more reasonable for Scott to come back for his senior season before entering the draft, but with an eye-popping season Maryland fans are hoping for from Scott, he could make some noise next June, or at least, get his name out there in a way it hasn't been before.

It’s unrealistic to expect Scott to double his scoring from last year to this year as he did from his freshman year to sophomore year, but Scott is expected to make another jump and become a focal point of the Terps offense. If he does, the sky is the limit for a Maryland team that is ranked 21st in the AP preseason poll.