WASHINGTON — Maryland basketball signee Darryl Morsell gave fans a preview of his skill set in the Capital Classic at the Verizon Center on Saturday.
The Mount St. Joseph’s guard displayed the qualities that made him Mark Turgeon’s first-ever recruit from Baltimore as the United States All-Americans beat the Capital All-Stars, 113-101. Bruno Fernando, Maryland’s other 2017 signee, cheered his future teammate on from the bench as he sat out with an injury.
Morsell looked like he’s ready to immediately help the Terps on both ends of the floor, but his impact was most evident on defense. He errs on the side of caution, which distinguishes his defensive brand from Maryland freshman Anthony Cowan’s pesky defense.
While Cowan excels at pestering opponents and poking the ball loose, Morsell concentrates on staying in front of defenders without forcing anything. He doesn’t reach in often and instead uses textbook footwork and his physicality to lock down ball-handlers. In the Classic, his defense caused a couple steals that led to fast breaks. Maryland ranked just No. 245 in steal percentage this season, per KenPom, giving Morsell a clear way to help immediately.
It was clear that Morsell is more of a drive-and-kick player on offense. He’s used to having the ball in his hands on that end. He looked to attack when he had the ball, and despite it being an all-star game, played with intensity whenever he was on the floor. Though Melo Trimble is departing for the draft, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon will still be able to play with two or three point guards at a time if he wishes.
On the other end, Morsell said he envisions a lot of pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations with Fernando next season, and he looked comfortable running it. On one he ran with North Carolina commit Brandon Huffman, Morsell called for the pick and ran his defender off Huffman. Then Morsell drove to the basket before jumping and attempting to lay the pass off to his roll man.
Plays like this should smooth out once he starts building chemistry with his teammates at Maryland. The Terps are losing Trimble, but Morsell will give them another guard skilled in the pick-and-roll to pair with Cowan.
Morsell also had a series of scoring plays that should give Maryland fans some hope that a smoother offense is to come. Right out of the half, Morsell immediately cut to the rack for the inbounds pass, giving him an easy bucket. On the next possession, he took control of the ball in the open court and found a cutter for the jam.
Morsell will give Turgeon someone off the bench who can force the action. The Terps’ offense largely stalled with Trimble and Cowan out of the game this season. Jaylen Brantley looked like a confident distributor, but Morsell’s drive-and-kick style should facilitate more ball movement and scoring opportunities for the second team.
His quickness is also striking.
On a play that looked like a sure lay-in for Iowa commit Luka Garza as he caught a lead pass on the fast break ended with Morsell hustling to get back into the play and challenge the shot. Garza would end up with an and-1 in what can be seen as a bone-headed play, but what the video doesn’t show is just how far Morsell sprinted to get in the frame.
Morsell and the U.S. All-Stars were on the other side of half court when the Capital All-Stars got the turnover. Morsell was on the far side of the court, off-ball, as Miami commit Chris Lykes started the fast break. He almost caught up to Lykes and then cut across the court to contest Garza’s shot. He may not have altered the shot enough - more experience and discipline will help - but hustle like this in an all-star game deserves to be appreciated. Turgeon as proven he can coach a group of solid defenders, and Morsell has all the qualities to follow suit.
Fernando, Maryland’s other 2017 signee, was held out of the game as he finishes recovering from a knee injury.
The IMG Academy (Fla.) recruit demonstrated clear strengths during warmups. He looked comfortable launching shots from beyond the arc, at one point draining three straight while doing a heel-turn when he landed that can only described as Michael Jackson-esque. He looks like he’s going to fit right in with the running man dancing group in the locker room.
“I was just trying to have fun,” Fernando said. “I work on my game a lot. I shoot a lot ... so it’s kind of I really have that confidence. I’ll know, when I shoot, I know when the ball’s going in. So I can just let it go and spin.”
While the Capital Classic didn’t give the public a look at Fernando, Morsell said he was “phenomenal” in practices this week.
“He was the best big man in practice, to me,” Morsell said. “He’s just so versatile for his size. He can shoot ... he’s a great interior presence on defense. I’m just excited to play with him next year. ... I think I play pretty good on-ball defense, but if I get beat I know he’s right there to help.”
Fernando figures to give the Terps a center who can stretch the floor, as well as replace some of the defensive production that they’ll lose when Damonte Dodd graduates this May. He’ll also give Maryland an alternative to the oft-injured Michal Cekovsky and allow Ivan Bender to play more minutes at power forward.
Fernando is also confident about the early chemistry he has with Morsell after a week of practices. It’s a good head start months before the two will even arrive on campus.
“At practice, we were playing on the same team and he threw a lob to me,” Fernando said. “We did a lot of stuff together. We just got to make sure we bring all the chemistry from off the court, to the court.”
The two sound eager to play together for Maryland, so time will tell whether their off-court relationship will translate to production in College Park.