The friends haven’t entirely been reunited at Maryland: Dodd is taking a post-graduate year at Massanutten Military Academy, and Cassell was deemed a non-qualifier by the NCAA. But Mitchell, Allen and Cleare all have become instrumental contributors to this season’s Terrapins squad, which enters Saturday’s ACC opener against Virginia Tech on a 12-game winning streak, buoyed by a bench stacked with Coach Mark Turgeon’s inaugural recruiting class.
And the Capital Classic? It was where a friendship was formed, foreshadowing one of the most tight-knit groups Turgeon has ever coached. Unlike typical bonds at summer basketball camp, where promises to write and text and remain best-friends-forever fall by the wayside, that weekend in Alexandria was the inception of something truly special.
“We didn’t leave each other alone the whole time,” Mitchell said. “It was friendship, team chemistry since the moment we met.”
Longing for sleep after a late flight on April 19, Cleare had barely trudged into the Alexandria hotel lobby when he heard Mitchell’s thundering laugh.
They were AAU rivals. Cleare was the prized big-man recruit from Texas with the famous first name, Mitchell the tank-bodied forward from Atlanta. Both knew Sam Cassell Jr. because of Sam Cassell Sr., a former NBA player of 15 seasons, but had no idea what to expect from Allen and Dodd.
‘Good group of guys’
Mitchell flew from Atlanta with trepidations, nervous about meeting his future teammates for the first time. He traveled solo, much like he did on the AAU circuit, and arrived at the Holiday Inn first. Hearing a knock on his door, Mitchell opened it and saw a middle-age man staring up at the 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward. “Uhh, how may I help you?” Mitchell asked. Around the corner, Allen exited the elevator, finally catching up to his father. Mitchell’s confusion dissipated. “Oh Seth,” he said smiling, recognizing Allen from highlight tapes. “What’s good?”
Everything, it seemed, was perfect that weekend. Allen and Mitchell have roomed together ever since. And once Cleare, Cassell and Dodd arrived, the five were inseparable. They wolfed down a late-night pizza over television, sat together for dry-rub ribs the following afternoon and watched the romantic comedy “Think Like a Man” from the front row, giggling until their stomachs hurt. If basketball flows through their veins, laughter was their oxygen.