When Mark Turgeon and the Maryland men’s basketball team landed four-star point guard Eric Ayala Saturday afternoon, it was still great, but felt like a consolation prize after five-star point guard target Devon Dotson committed to Kansas about 24 hours earlier.
It shouldn’t feel like that. And Ayala’s next four years at Maryland will prove that he is much more than a consolation prize.
Ayala is the No. 76 overall prospect in the country, and the No. 6 combo guard, per the 247Sports Composite. With his commitment, the Terps move up to No. 5 in the 247Sports team rankings, trailing only Michigan (No. 4) in the Big Ten. The Terps already have five-star big man Jalen Smith and 6’6 small forward Aaron Wiggins in the fold, and with Ayala joining them, they could be forming one of the best classes in program history.
At 6’5, 180 pounds, he’s a bigger ball handler, and he’s a proven winner against elite competition. As a member of the We-R1 AAU team, Ayala is a two-time Under Armour circuit champion. He’s able to use a combination of his size, strength and athleticism to power his way into and through the lane, but has enough of an outside game that defenders can’t just sag off and dare him to shoot. He isn’t a lockdown defender, but will have plenty of time to work on that before he puts on a Terrapin uniform for the first time.
Likely a four-year member of the program, Ayala looks like a player who can develop into a true leader and difference-maker as an upperclassman. And with Anthony Cowan probably holding down the starting point guard position for Ayala’s first two years in College Park, he won’t be put in positions for which he’s not ready early in his career. What’s more, as a solid, but not-yet spectacular player, he won’t scare off other elite recruits in search of ample playing time.
With Justin Jackson almost certain to leave early for the NBA Draft after next season, and three prospects committed in the Class of 2018, there are three more open scholarship spots for that class. Maryland is after several strong candidates to fill those spots.
Turgeon and Co. are still chasing five-star wing Keldon Johnson, who was rumored to be close to committing to Maryland a couple weeks ago, but has pushed his decision back until November. John Calipari and Kentucky are lurking, but Johnson was not on the visitors list for UK’s midnight madness this past weekend. Maryland is also after four-star small forward Jairus Hamilton, who visited this weekend. With five-star center Moses Brown taking his time making a decision, underrated three-star center Kenneth Nwumba is an option that’s appeared more realistic.
Ayala and the other 2018 commits should have the Terps set up for years of success. Pair that group and what’s left of the current roster with some of those uncommitted prospects, and Maryland looks to be in an even better place going forward.