As new Maryland men’s basketball head coach Kevin Willard prepares to embark on his first season with the program in less than a week, he has made it evident that there is something special about putting on the black and gold.
The goal is to raise banners every year, he says, as he tries to inject excitement back into a proud program. His vision goes far beyond what the public can foresee, but he sold it to two Maryland kids who thought the immediate future was bright enough.
Point guard Jahmir Young and shooting guard Don Carey are two transfers who will look to jumpstart the Willard era into early success.
Both players are from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, ready to make an impact for the flagship program of their state. Young comes over after three years at Charlotte, while Carey lands at Maryland after two years at Georgetown and prior pit stops at Siena and Mount St. Mary’s.
Now united under Willard, Young and Carey join a group hungry to prove outside expectations wrong.
DeMatha Catholic High School is just a brief drive — 10 or so minutes — from the XFINITY Center. Since 2010, NBA talents Victor Oladipo, Quinn Cook and Markelle Fultz have played there, among others. Current college basketball stars like Villanova’s Justin Moore and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson played there as well. Despite the proximity, not a single one of them ended up in a Maryland uniform.
The last player from DeMatha to suit up for the Terps? Travis Garrison, who played under former head coach Gary Williams from 2002-06.
“That’s crazy,” Young said.
Though he took a different route to ultimately ending up in College Park, Young, a DeMatha alum himself, will become the first Stag to make his Maryland men’s basketball debut in 20 years.
“It’s crazy to think about it like that. It’s been 20 years, it’s been a little while,” Young said. “It’s special, you know, it’s something that stands out, something that also makes me unique and helps me stand out. But I just feel like it’s a special opportunity that we have and I have.”
While Young certainly cannot alter the past, he can write the script for the future.
Young became Willard’s second addition at Maryland when he committed on April 27. The former 49er had a special career for Charlotte, earning Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors in 2020 and following that up with back-to-back first team all-conference recognitions.
Sporting a smooth lefty stroke, Young had a fantastic junior season last year. He averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He was able to mold an all-around impactful game while also shooting 46.8% from the field, 34.1% from deep and 89.2% from the charity stripe.
Young says he chose Maryland over schools including Miami, Gonzaga and Purdue, and it was a “pretty easy” decision for him to return home. Now one of the core guys of Willard’s first group, he bought into his sights for both himself and the team.
“Just me being able to lead the team, being able to be aggressive, be myself and just being able to compete and get up and down,” Young said of Willard’s vision. “He’s very confident in us, we’re also very confident. We feel like the vision is a Big Ten championship.”
As Young makes the jump in levels, he will have to continue to let the game come to him. Life in the Big Ten is different from life in Conference USA. While Young says he has to get used to the physicality and spacing in the conference, he has a chance to step up as a leader for a brand-new mishmash of Maryland players.
Just eight days before the start of the 2022-23 season, Carey posted an Instagram slideshow with three pictures of him rocking the Maryland red and white uniforms, with the last of the three pictures showing him sporting the signature state flag.
A part of the caption reads, “Ain’t Nobody Gave Me S---, I Earned This Stuff.” If he is referencing his basketball career, that sentiment rings true.
Carey’s 247Sports recruiting page will show that he was completely unheralded out of Frederick Douglass High School, earning zero stars and no ranking as a class of 2017 recruit. More than five years and three colleges later, Carey will suit up as a likely starter for his hometown team in less than one week.
“No, that’s kind of why it was a full circle moment,” Carey said. “I never really thought about coming to Maryland, honestly, until that opportunity opened up. So when it did happen, it just gave me an opportunity to kind of think about my whole career. Even from last season, not being recruited a lot to coming to an institution like Maryland and playing for coach Willard.”
At this point, Carey is far from unheralded. He worked his way from Mount St. Mary’s to Siena — contributing at the mid-major level — to Georgetown, where he became quite the player in the Big East.
The nearby Hoyas’ struggles under Georgetown legend turned head coach Patrick Ewing are well-documented, going 0-19 in Big East play last season. However, Carey was a bright spot during dark days for Georgetown, leading the Hoyas as a team captain and averaging 13.5 points per game in 2021-22. Carey should also provide Maryland another weapon from deep, as he shot 38.8% from the perimeter last season.
As Carey, like his new teammates, adjusts to Willard’s program, expect his game to continue to ascend.
“He knew my ability, he believed in me because I played against him, at least for two years,” Carey said of Willard, who coached against him in the Big East. “He just wanted to kind of take me to the next level, and that’s putting me in ball screen situations and showing that I can pass the ball as well. Other than that, he loves three-point shots, he loves shooting, so just continuing on with that, really.”
Inevitably, Young, Carey and the entire Maryland roster will have growing pains when it comes to meshing on the court. Off the court, though, the relationship between the two guards has flourished.
“We’re actually roommates. He’s probably my best friend on the team,” Young said. “We spend a lot of time together on and off the court, just talking about different ways that we’ll be able to be successful this season. So we’ve got a lot of things in common and we both want to win. So we’re both competitive, so I feel like that’s what connects us the most.”
The two now-close friends only knew of each other before teaming up, despite them both being from Upper Marlboro. With no previous experience together, it will take time before the finished product is ready to win ball games.
“On the court, they’ve really worked hard to try to understand each other’s game and try to complement each other’s games,” Willard said. “It’s just, you know, there’s times where they look great together, and there’s times they look lost together just because three years at a different school, five years at different schools, you know, in the heat of battle, sometimes old instincts take over. But they have worked really hard, I think especially off the court to get to know each other. You know, they’re two great young men. You know, on the court again, on the court early on everything’s going to be a work in progress.”
Carey and Young being “two great young men” may be more important than anything. Willard is trying to rebuild a winning culture at Maryland, but that is hard to do if the right personalities cannot blend. Willard admits that there were a lot of players that wanted to come to Maryland this offseason, but he and his staff were “very selective” of not only the type of player but the type of character they were.
Willard’s new backcourt mates epitomized both of those characteristics along with the intangible element of being Maryland natives. The former Seton Hall head coach emphasized the importance of keeping talent home with his first commit — freshman guard/forward Noah Batchelor — being a product of Frederick, Maryland. Recruiting Maryland kids like Carey and Young who have already had college experience is a different strategy, but the importance of the rich hometown area remains.
“To make sure that, obviously we want Maryland kids, but we also want the right Maryland kids,” Willard said. “And we felt Jahmir and Don were two guys that – high character, unbelievable work ethic, same thing with Noah. And just to kind of get into the community, let these kids represent me in the community, and I think they’ve done a great job so far.”