In the fall of 2017, Darryl Morsell and Reese Mona each set foot at the University of Maryland’s campus, the duo expected to play completely different roles.
Morsell was a raw, springy, wide-eyed freshman eager to contribute to his hometown team. A four-star recruit per 24/7 Sports Composite with offers from Villanova, Notre Dame and UConn, the Baltimore-native opted to stay close to home.
Mona first joined the Terps as a walk-on, having played his high school ball just around 30 minutes away at St. John’s College High School in D.C. It was there that Mona shared the floor with Anthony Cowan Jr., where the two won the DCAA Championship in 2015 and the coveted WCAC Championship in 2016.
Though they each will have the option to come back next season, with their decisions uncertain for now, the duo, alongside Alabama transfer Galin Smith, will celebrate senior day in Maryland’s regular season finale against Penn State Sunday night.
For Morsell, it’s a time to look back on an impressive four years under head coach Mark Turgeon, during which he became the 56th player in program history to reach 1,000 points.
Originally coming off the bench at the beginning his freshman season, Morsell slowly found his way into the starting five after the Terps were burdened with injuries, most notably losing Justin Jackson. He started in the final 20 games of the season, averaging 8.4 points per game.
Morsell continued to improve in his sophomore and junior seasons, providing the ability to guard one through four defensively and finish through contact at the rim. He’s had several signature moments over those two seasons, including tying a career-high 18 points in Maryland’s 2019 NCAA Tournament first round win over Belmont and sinking a game-winning three-pointer on the road at Minnesota last season to cap a massive comeback effort from the Terps.
But it’s been in his senior season that he’s made the biggest leap, assuming the role as the team’s primary leader on and off the floor in the most unusual of seasons.
As one of just three seniors on this year’s squad, Morsell has taken it upon himself to be one of the most mature player in the locker room, setting an example for some of his younger teammates to be able to strive towards. And even when he was out with a fractured bone in his face, Morsell still led his teammates from the sidelines, directing the defense up to the high-standard that he sets for himself.
Morsell’s steadily improved his offensive game in College Park as well, which head coach Mark Turgeon wasn’t necessarily expecting, providing some timely scoring when the team’s needed it most this season. Despite being hampered by injury, he’s set career-highs in points per game (8.8) and field goal percentage (47.6%), and has made strides as a passer with a career-high 2.8 assists per game.
“He’s gotten a lot better, just his understanding, his screening, his moving,” Turgeon said. “He’s worked at it, he’s been patient with it, and the thing I love about him, it is very rarely now does he take a bad shot. He’s always trying to do what’s best for the team.”
Regardless of whether Morsell decides to return or not, his swan song over this final stretch of the season is sure to be one that won’t disappoint.
“Just me growing from a boy into a man,” Morsell said of his growth since his freshman year. “The guidance of these phenomenal men and the coaching staff has just been phenomenal, and I think I’ve just grown the most mentally and how I perceive stuff and stuff like that.”
Unlike his counterpart, Mona played sparingly behind a perennially stacked Maryland backcourt, appearing in 32 games over his first three seasons with the team. And despite not getting as much time on the floor as some of his teammates at the same position, Mona’s work ethic has never wavered. He’s consistently been one of the hardest workers on the team, whether in practice or in live-game action. The way his teammate’s reacted to his big moment in the late minutes of game against Oakland last season showed just how much this team appreciates him.
Uncut. Unfiltered. The Reese Mona Experience. pic.twitter.com/SyPexmswBs— Sean Montiel (@SeanMMontiel) November 16, 2019
And he finally had his work pay off this summer.
In August, Turgeon surprised Mona on a team Zoom call that he would be receiving a scholarship for his senior season, a deserved honor for all the time and effort he had put into the program since his freshman season.
“Reese has just brought it everyday, I mean the kid just literally brings it everyday, gives it 100 and whatever percent,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Whether he’s playing or not playing, he just gave us everything he had for four years.”
Now one of 13 scholarship players on the team, Mona has served a reserve guard for the Terps this season, with Turgeon turning to his experienced vet to help the younger players run the offense smoothly and put his teammates in positions to be successful.
Mona has appeared in 20 games already this season, the most he has in any year with the program. And although his numbers in the box score may not reflect it, Mona has been an essential member to this year’s team, both on and off the floor.
“It’s special, it’s special to me,” Mona said. “Coming in as a walk-on, it’s always your goal and dream to play but its really something that doesn’t happen too often and for me to just get any minutes is special. I just try to take advantage of and enjoy every second I’m a part of this program, whether its practice, game, walk-through, its an honor to be a part of this team and I enjoy every second.”
Galin Smith only just joined the program prior to this season, but has already earned his keep among his Terp teammates alike for his efforts in the trenches.
Smith spent the first three seasons of his college career in Tuscaloosa, mixing it up in the SEC with Alabama under three different head coaches.
But after the Crimson Tide secured Yale graduate transfer Jordan Bruner in April, Smith opted to take his chances in the transfer portal, where Mark Turgeon & Co. jumped at the opportunity to bring the 6-foot-9 big man to College Park.
Tasked with replacing 2020 NBA lottery pick Jalen Smith, the Terps seemed to be an ideal fit for both parties. But the transition to a conference loaded with talented bigs was a difficult one at times for Smith, coming in and out of the starting lineup as Turgeon tried to piece together the right rotations for this year’s squad.
Smith has continued to improve as Big Ten play has worn on, though, slowly but surely finding his footing alongside his Terp teammates. He scored 10 points in a crucial win over Minnesota on Feb. 14, and has found his role as the guy who’s willing to get his hands dirty down low.
Smith was never going to be able to replicate the production from his predecessor that bore the same name, but he undeniably played a significant role in the team’s success this season.
“For us not having a summer, us not having a fall, its just been a luxury having somebody new come in that’s a senior that already knows how to play basketball, that already knows how to read screens, how to double team, how to do everything that we do,” Morsell said of Smith. “So it’s just a comforting feeling in just knowing that you got a big that knows what to do, and I trust him on the court.”