Entering third open recruiting period, Maryland basketball still searching for missing piece(s)


Is Mark Turgeon taking the long view in terms of the class of 2014? (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The final evaluation period for college basketball recruits begins Wednesday. With three sharpshooters already orally committed for Maryland’s class of 2014, this means one final edition of all-out recruiting before summer ends to scout out the final missing piece.

The Terrapins remain firmly in play for centers Goodluck Okonoboh (No. 32 in the Rivals top 150), Trayvon Reed (68) and Chinanu Onuaku (120). All three are athletic shot-blocking artists who would shore up Maryland’s paint and add a valuable rim protector to the roster.

Onuaku’s DC Assault team and Okonoboh’s Mass Rivals will both be in Las Vegas this week, competing at the Fab 48 and Super 64 tournaments, respectively. Coach Mark Turgeon and assistant Dalonte Hill are expected to attend. Assistant Bino Ranson could wind up in Orlando, scouting Reed and E1T1 at the AAU Super Showcase.

But something curious has happened over the past week. First, North Carolina forward Gary Clark (6 feet 7) reported an offer from the Terrapins. Then German product Dominique Uhl (6-8) received one, too. So why, if one of the aforementioned centers would give Maryland its maximum 13 scholarships for the 2014-15 season, would the coaching staff be hunting a fifth prospect?

It’s insurance. The Terps are being safe. Alex Len began last season ranked around No. 20 on draft boards by NBA writers. Eventually, the Phoenix Suns took him fifth overall. NBA scouts have recently shown particular interest in Dez Wells and Jake Layman, projecting the Maryland swingmen to have next-level talent. If either enjoys a Len-like boost in stock this season, the possibility exists that they consider jumping early, even though the loaded 2014 draft class makes that unlikely.

But the Terps are preparing for such a scenario by almost over-recruiting players of similar abilities. Just in case. Prep school always exists anyway — the route taken by Damonte Dodd, who will join Maryland this season — for a one-year stopover if things get too crowded.

Now, true post players like Reed, Onuaku and Okonoboh remain the top priority. (The staff views Dodd as a high-motor shot-blocker and rebounder who will make his career on the glass, though bringing in another rim protector is never a bad thing and if a big-boded power forward who can pass and shoot from the high post like Martin Geben falls into their laps, the Terps would be plenty pleased.) How the staff handles Okonoboh’s recruitment over this week could indicate their position with him, too.

With offers from Indiana, Syracuse and Connecticut, among others, Okonoboh is regarded among the nation’s elite recruits. He’s a five-star prospect according to 247sports.com and the third-ranked center, with potential to jump ship into the NBA lottery after one season.

And therein lies the question: Would Maryland want a player of Okonoboh’s caliber? Of course. But would the staff want Okonoboh commanding 30 minutes a game while older teammates like Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare take a back seat, only to have him declare for the NBA nine months later?

It’s an interesting situation and Onuaku may be Maryland’s best — and most likely — option. He reportedly watched the NBA draft at Comcast Center with the team, and consequently saw Alex Len walk shake David Stern’s hand 30 minutes into the broadcast. He also plays AAU with Romelo Trimble and competes at the same circuit events as Jared Nickens. Both Maryland commits have been working him hard.

At this juncture, the Terps have one or maybe two scholarship slots to fill, but their options are legion. Onuaku is notoriously tight-lipped on favorites and every time Okonoboh lists the schools recruiting him the hardest, he might as well just read an alphabetical list of high-major programs. And maybe if Maryland wants to continue pursuing a small/power forward for a five-man class, Abdul-Malik Abu and Obi Enechionyia might wind up in the mix again.

The Terps vaulted into the top five of many national class rankings thanks to Trimble, Nickens and Wiley all committing by mid-June. Figuring out the fourth spot, however, will take some time.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · July 23, 2013

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