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How Kevin Huerter became Maryland basketball’s best NBA Draft prospect in years

The 6’7 guard has the skills to contribute in the pros right now, and his game still has plenty of room to grow.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been five years since Maryland basketball last had a first-round pick in the NBA Draft. The Terps have had underclassmen in the conversation in recent years, but those typically ended with a return to school for the prospect. On the day of the 2018 draft, the wait for another is probably over.

In all likelihood, Kevin Huerter will become the first Terp taken in the first 30 picks since Alex Len went fifth in 2013. He was invited to the NBA’s green room, but will instead watch surrounded by family and friends. The selection will be the culmination of a quick rise to professional relevance for the Clifton Park, New York, native.

How did we get here?

After being recruited as a 6’3 guard, Huerter bloomed to 6’5 by the time he committed to Maryland as a four-star guard in September 2015. He’d grow to 6’7 by the time he signed and stepped on campus as part of a trio of four-stars that joined forces with Melo Trimble in what would be the former star’s final year.

Huerter showed flashes of his versatility and marksmanship his rookie season, but he wasn’t the freshman scouts were flocking to. That attention would fall to the other Terp in this year’s draft: Justin Jackson. Jackson would test the process and return, expected to become a first-round pick in 2018.

With Trimble off to the pros, Huerter moved back to guard, slotting in the backcourt next to the third four-star of that 2016 class and its first commit, Anthony Cowan. Jackson got off to a slow start and was eventually shut down with an injury. The injury forced Huerter into a more prominent offensive role, showcasing his skill set as a playmaker as well as a shooter.

A late entry to this year’s draft, the sophomore was expected to go to the combine, get feedback and return to Maryland in hopes of going in next year’s lottery. Instead, he exploded on the scene at the combine, and would become the first Maryland underclassman to test the process and decide to remain in the draft since the rule change.

What has Kevin Huerter shown scouts?

The easiest way to describe Huerter’s role at Maryland is to call him a Swiss Army knife. It’s a description we’ve used here countless times, but it also partly undersells his skill set.

He put up solid numbers his freshman year, averaging 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc in a mostly off-ball role. Already showing improvement as a scorer, Huerter was forced to create a larger portion of the offense when Jackson went down.

He’d finish the season upping nearly all his averages, with clips of 14.8 points, five rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from deep. There were times where Huerter’s shooting almost single-handedly kept Maryland in games; he went 7-of-9 from three en route to 23 points in an eventual loss to Syracuse.

Returning to some of his guard roots, Huerter initiated much more of the offense last season. He also upped his three-point clip while averaging around five longball attempts in each year. He’s no slouch defensively either, and has the quickness to guard multiple positions on that end. After posting a 38-inch vertical at the combine, he showed the ability to impact the game with his shooting and the poise to do so within the flow of an offense in his scrimmage. He left Chicago firmly on the map.

Where can Huerter still grow?

Teams are biting on Huerter now, rather than waiting a year for potential growth, because his floor should still make him an NBA contributor. Things like shooting, rebounding and passing typically translate to the next level.

The other reason teams are so high on him: they still see room for growth in his game, which is tantalizing. He looks to still be scratching at his potential as a playmaker; he had nine games with four or more turnovers last season. Huerter’s a solid defender, but could stand to make more plays on that end. The wing averaged a shade under a steal and a block in college, but showed glimpses of being able to make a bigger impact on that end.

He had surgery recently to repair a torn ligament in his shooting hand, expected to keep him out for two months, although he’ll be healthy well before the preseason. He’ll also need to continue bulking up, like he did this spring, to survive the grueling schedule of an 82-game season.

When will Maryland fans hear Huerter’s name called on Thursday?

Kevin Huerter won’t be on the board in the second round. He’ll most likely be gone after the lottery but before pick No. 30. He’s rumored to have received a promise from a team in the first round before deciding to remain in the draft. His range is perceived as between 17-21, and while the rumor is that the promising team is the Lakers, they may not get the chance with the No. 25 pick. The surgery is unlikely to deter teams; they know what they’re getting.