He was a project. At least, that was the label. Once a little-known prospect from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Damonte Dodd arrived in College Park fresh off a prep school year, ready to contribute a spark off the bench, because few expected more from the 6-foot-11 center.
But after seamlessly fitting into the rotation during Sunday afternoon’s exhibition against Catholic, Dodd has already changed some minds.
“I can’t tell you how far that kid’s come since our first practice this summer,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “He’s just coming. He works and he’s a great kid. He’s got no ego, which those are fun to coach.”
During Maryland’s 84-39 rout of Catholic on Sunday, Dodd’s productive 11 minutes provided a glimpse of the impact Turgeon hopes he can coax from the rookie with the long arms and gazelle-like gallop.
Dodd made both field goal attempts, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots. He leapt in traffic with confidence, hardly a tentative newcomer who needed adjusting. This preseason, Turgeon has consistently curbed his hypothetical rotation before reaching Dodd, always leaving him out of the math. Saturday, however, convinced him otherwise.
“He brings us energy,” Turgeon said. “When you play 35, 38, 40 games, however many we’re going to play this year, we’re going to come out flat a few times and he’ll bring that energy for us. It was a great first game for him.”
With Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell the team’s more established big men, and Maryland primarily operating with a versatile four-guard lineups, Dodd’s minutes might be limited to somewhere around 12 per game.
But if he can do exactly what he did against Catholic, the contribution will be noticeable, the transition far less rocky than anticipated.
“He’s starting to think the game a lot better,” guard Dez Wells said. “I think in high school, you can just get by on talent. If you’re taller and faster than guys, you can dominate the game. In college, you have to have the physical attributes and you have to think the game at a high level. That’s what he’s really starting to do.
“He’s starting to talk a lot more. He’s doing a really good job of staying in his stance on defense and he’s challenging shots. He can alter so many shots with his length, and he runs the floor. A lot of big men won’t be able to run with it and a lot of big men won’t be able to have an impact on defense like he does. Those are things we need him to do, and he’s doing that at a really high level right now.”
After the exhibition, as his news conference with reporters focused primarily on his adjustment to point guard, Wells sounds like a proud father talking about Dodd. And why not? Since delaying his commitment to Maryland by a year to enroll at Massanutten Military Academy, where he started on one of the nation’s best prep-school teams, Dodd has done nothing but improve. Doctors even project he’ll top 7 feet, and during practice he consistently beats guards down the floor on sprints.
“Well Damonte, he’s the kind of person, regardless of what tone of voice you talk to him in, how hard you come at him as far as your words, he’s going to respond the same way,” Wells said. “He’s going to play hard. The thing I love about Damonte is every mistake he makes, he makes it going 1,000 miles per hour, as opposed to some freshmen around the country where they’ll make mistakes and only go half-speed, so you can’t really correct it. You have to correct effort and you have to correct the mistake.
“So Damonte plays hard. He does what he’s supposed to do. I feel like he can be more of an offensive threat, once he comes into more of his own as a college player. This was his first time out here, so he did really good as far as blocking shots, running the floor, finishing at the basket, rebounding. He’ll come along as the year goes along, he’ll be a really, really big key to our team.”