When Kevin Huerter arrived at Maryland, hardly anybody expected him to leave for the NBA Draft after two seasons. Even when he declared without an agent in April, it seemed like his intention was simply to test the waters and receive feedback before returning for his junior year.
It’s the first time Maryland has ultimately lost a player who had declared for the draft without an agent; the three other players to do so since it became an option in 2016 all returned to school. But after a strong showing at the combine, Huerter became nearly a consensus first-round pick. His stock is still rising with just over three weeks until draft night. It was too much to pass up.
Huerter played his way into this position, and that’s laudable.
Lamar: Huerter earned the right to stay in this draft. He was a late entry and an afterthought when he declared, but most who had seen him at Maryland knew he was an NBA-quality player. He wasn’t expected to leave; he showed out at the combine for that opportunity.
This also wasn’t an easy decision to make. Even after it started to trickle out that he intended on staying, the Clifton Park, New York, native and his father pushed back. Huerter really enjoyed his time at Maryland and believed it would be a better team in 2018-19. However, the Justin Jackson factor was likely a consideration. Jackson was a fringe first-round prospect last year, and is now looking at being a late second-round pick at best after an injury-shortened sophomore season and signing with an agent.
Huerter’s been mocked as high as the No. 17 pick in this draft, and as the No. 19 pick as recently as this morning by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Another report cited sources stating “he’s not getting out of the first round.” That’s a lot of money on the table—seven figures guaranteed, to be more exact. Huerter could have bet on himself for another season to try to work his way into the lottery, but there’s no guarantee that would have panned out. In a draft top-heavy on elite big men and lighter on game-ready wings, this was Huerter’s best shot to start the clock towards that second NBA contract.
Maryland has the tools to replace Huerter, but it won’t be easy.
Thomas: The Terps waited all spring on decisions from Huerter and freshman center Bruno Fernando, who was long seen as more likely to leave. As it turned out, Maryland will have Fernando and not Huerter in 2018-19. After looking at the lineups for every scenario, this outcome might be preferable to the other way around.
Huerter probably would have been Maryland’s ace this coming season—he’d bring scoring, shooting, passing, defense and upperclassman leadership. But the Terps have a relatively deep group of perimeter players and a more bare cupboard of big men. Had Fernando left, Schnider Herard would have been the Terps’ only conventional center; he’s not eligible until midseason. With Huerter gone, several young guards have the opportunity to step up.
Maryland will return three starters—Fernando, Anthony Cowan Jr. and Darryl Morsell—and the other two spots are expected to be filled by blue-chip freshmen. Five-star power forward Jalen Smith will line up at his natural position, and four-star wing Aaron Wiggins will likely play small forward. A bench featuring guards Eric Ayala and Serrel Smith alongside forwards Herard, Joshua Tomaic and Ivan Bender should make Maryland far deeper than last year.
As their roster stands, the Terps probably won’t receive a preseason top-25 billing. But the pieces are still in place for Maryland to play its way into the Big Ten picture. Losing Huerter just makes that a little more difficult.