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For Maryland women's basketball's scout team, practice makes the Terps perfect

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The scouts aren’t official members of the team, but they’re vital to its success.

Byron Jones (#3) defends Maryland point guard Channise Lewis in practice.
Photo by Thomas Kendziora / Testudo Times

On the Xfinity Center floor, Byron Jones settles into his defensive stance. Freshman point guard Channise Lewis is bringing the ball up the court, and the Maryland women’s basketball team begins to practice its offensive set. Jones isn’t on the team, but the behind-the-scenes contributions he and several others make don’t go unnoticed by the players or coaches.

This is Jones’ fourth year on the women’s basketball scout team, which practices against the Terps all season long. The group is made up of around 15 male students, and although not everyone makes every practice, they all become familiar faces at Xfinity Center. In his four years, Jones has made a name for himself on the defensive end.

“My role is basically to make the point guard better with my ability to defend them,” Jones said. The Terps have had a different floor general in each of Jones’ four years with the team, but his defense has been a constant.

There’s no extensive tryout process to join this squad; most scout team members ended up on this floor by word of mouth. They’re all accomplished players, and several play club basketball at Maryland. This presents a different challenge than they’re used to, but they embrace it.

“I just wanted to stay in basketball,” Jones said. “I could’ve played at a D-II or D-III school, and I considered trying to walk on to a Division I program [but] never really got the opportunity. Joining scout kind of allowed me to stay in basketball and be a part of a high-level program.”

The exact cast differs from day to day, and it’s on Danielle Hemerka, Maryland women’s basketball’s director of scouting and player development, to coordinate attendance. Former women’s basketball players will join in sometimes, and senior guard Ieshia Small spent most of 2015-16 on the scout team while she redshirted the season after transferring from Baylor, but the team’s still almost entirely comprised of guys. Jones practices with the team two or three times a week, which is a reasonably significant time commitment on top of senior-year kinesiology classes.

Members of the scout team meet with Maryland assistant coach Bett Shelby, who has the scouting report on the Terps' next opponent.
Photo by Thomas Kendziora

All this effort often goes unappreciated. Scout team players are volunteers; they don’t receive scholarships or any benefits beyond the occasional Maryland Under Armour shirt or pair of shoes. They don’t travel to away games. But they still have to complete the same amount of NCAA paperwork and are held to the same academic standards as the players on the team.

Still, having them around is invaluable to the members of the women’s team.

“It’s hard to run a full practice if we don’t have them here,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said, “and the things that they can simulate from a length and speed and strength situation is really important for us.”

There are certainly benefits to having a scout team that wouldn’t come otherwise. It gives featured post players like Stephanie Jones and Brianna Fraser a more physical test near the basket than teammates can provide. It allows the players to practice together instead of splitting up.

That might make the scout team’s presence more valuable this season than any in Frese’s recent memory. The Terps’ roster is down to 10 players after four players transferred and two more graduated in the offseason.

“We need every single one of those scout guys every day,” Frese said. “I think it really helps our chemistry that we can all mesh together in our rotations that we’re still trying to find here early.”

Practices are competitive, but the scout team isn’t there to “win” a scrimmage. Rather, the players will adjust their games to simulate that of an opponent. If the premier low-post scorer on Maryland’s next opponent always shoots over her left shoulder, for instance, then that’s what the scout player will do.

“If scout isn’t defending well or we’re not pushing them from the offense’s perspective, the girls aren’t necessarily getting better,” Jones said. “That’s the overall goal, is to help them get better.”

It’s not always glamorous, but it doesn’t have to be.