Maryland men’s basketball believes it has something special with its freshman class. Head coach Kevin Willard called it the best group of freshmen he’s ever had.
Maryland’s first top-20 recruiting class in five years was headlined by four-star recruits Deshawn Harris-Smith and Jamie Kaiser Jr. and rounded out by three-stars Jahnathan Lamothe and Braden Pierce.
“Physically, they’re able to play and compete at this level,” Willard said, expressing confidence his newcomers will adjust to the college game seamlessly.
Harris-Smith, ranked the No. 27 ranked player in the 2023 class by the 247Sports Composite, is at the forefront of the group. Willard called the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Harris-Smith “by far the most talented player, probably the most physically gifted basketball player I’ve ever been able to coach so far.”
The Paul VI Catholic High School product is expected to start in the backcourt alongside fifth-year guard Jahmir Young, creating a one-two punch of guard able to space the floor and create opportunities.
“He is definitely an NBA-caliber player,” Young said of Harris-Smith. “So just making sure that he stays level-headed, making sure that he has a next-play mentality.”
Kaiser also has a shot of cracking the starting lineup. According to Willard, the former high school quarterback can make a shot from anywhere on the court. And he doesn’t lack confidence, either.
“I’m gonna make open shots because that’s just what I do,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser will provide length on the defensive side of the ball as well, standing at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds.
With a glaring lack of proven three-point shooting on the roster, Kaiser’s play will be paramount. Both Young and fifth-year forward Donta Scott were inconsistent from distance last season. Ian Martinez and Hakim Hart — who both made over a third of their threes a year ago — transferred. And Don Carey, who led last year’s team with 57 made threes, graduated.
Chance Stephens was brought in to provide a shooting threat off the bench, but he remains out with a knee injury.
Rounding out the trio of local freshmen is Lamothe, who is likely to see minutes off the bench. The Baltimore native, listed at 6-foot-4, knows he’ll need to make the most of his opportunities and bring a spark of energy when needed.
“A lot of pressure is going to be on [forward Julian Reese], Jahmir, DeShawn, just to facilitate and make shots, so when it comes to me, I just got to be ready to play,” Lamothe said.
The final piece of the freshman class is 7-foot center Braden Pierce, who sits behind Reese, Caelum Swanton-Rodger and Mady Traore on the depth chart.
Fans are going to learn a lot about the future of Terps men’s basketball this season. Much of the team’s performance will come down to how freshmen come up in the biggest moments.