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Notes from Maryland men’s basketball media day

Head coach Kevin Willard, players and assistant coaches spoke to the media with the season just three weeks away.

St. Peter’s v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Maryland men’s basketball held its preseason media day Thursday, where head coach Kevin Willard, players and assistant coaches were made available.

Willard’s second season leading the program will begin on Nov. 7 against Mount St. Mary’s, and with this campaign comes heightened expectations. Led by an experienced group of returners, the Terps look to improve upon their 22-13 record from last year.

Here are three takeaways from media day.

Young, Scott and Reese headline a talented roster

Three starters return from last year’s squad: Jahmir Young, Donta Scott and Julian Reese. The Terps added some exciting new freshmen, but the team’s success will ultimately come down to the performance of this trio.

Young, who transferred from Charlotte last year, is perhaps Maryland’s best player. In 2022, he averaged 15.8 points, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, all of which led the team and ranked top-15 in the Big Ten.

Young’s numbers trickled off toward the end of last year, but after experiencing the grind of Big Ten competition for the first time, Willard expects improvement.

“I think the biggest jump will come from Jahmir, in the fact that I just think he’ll understand the league so much better,” Willard said. “I think he’s thinking like a point guard now. Last year, he was really just trying to survive, [which] tells you how good of a player he is.”

After some uncertainty in the offseason, Scott elected to return to College Park for his fifth and final season as a Terp. Scott has received his fair share of criticism throughout the last few years, resulting in minimal preseason hype. But Willard thinks this is a mistake.

“He’s not getting talked about enough. He’s not getting enough credit,” Willard said. “I think Donta Scott will be phenomenal this year, I really do. ... There’s a whole lot of things off Donta’s plate now where he can kind of just focus on basketball.”

Scott averaged 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds last year, and could be played at any frontcourt position, Willard said.

Reese is the youngest and perhaps the most important returning starter. While Young dazzled fans with his craftiness, Reese’s interior presence cannot be understated.

“Julian, he’s gonna kick everyone’s ass and just go at it,” Willard said. “... I’m going to try to keep him out there as much as possible.”

Reese averaged 11.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last year. He needs to minimize foul trouble, though, as he committed a conference-high 112 fouls last year. When Reese is in foul trouble, so are the Terps.

Harris-Smith and Kaiser Jr. will have major roles

Deshawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr. have known each other since sixth grade. And they’ll both be on the court for the Terps a lot this season.

“He’s the most competitive person I’ve been around,” Willard said of Harris-Smith. “He has a great skillset. He doesn’t want to lose. He brings it every day.”

Willard’s high praise is no surprise, as he has on multiple occasions referred to the four-star recruit as the best freshman he’s ever coached. The 6-foot-5 guard brings size and skill that Willard hopes will build one of the best backcourts in the Big Ten, alongside Young.

Kaiser, another four-star recruit, will also be competing for a starting spot. And if he doesn’t crack the starting lineup on day one, he’ll be a key cog in the rotation. A large part of why he’ll have an extended role is because of his ability to shoot the lights out from beyond the arc.

“I’m going to make open shots because that’s just what I do,” Kaiser said.

Harris Smith added that Kaiser is “the best shooter within the team, and maybe one of the best in the country.”

“I would say the maturity of Jamie and DeShawn being able to compete at a high level while making the right plays and staying calm,” Young said. “I feel like they’re physically gifted. Very well gifted, individually and collectively with [Jahnathan Lamothe] as well.

“They’re going to impact us right away — they’re going to be able to contribute right away.”

Willard has versatility at his disposal

Despite losing important players from last year, including Hakim Hart, Ian Martinez and Patrick Emilien, Willard feels like he has filled that void by improving the team’s athleticism. He mentioned that he realized after the Terps’ second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Alabama that they weren’t athletic enough to compete with the nation’s top teams.

Indiana transfer Jordan Geronimo should help alleviate those concerns, providing elite athleticism and versatility. Geronimo’s ability to play multiple offensive positions and guard all five on defense will be an important asset.

Also, New Mexico State transfer Mady Tràore, who stands at 6-foot-11, will allow Willard to trot out a bigger lineup, with Scott and Reese at small and power forward, respectively.

And the freshmen, multiple of which will play major roles, will also expand the bench and allow for more contributors.