Damonte Dodd was on his feet, leaping and screaming at a television inside a Waynesboro, Va., Comfort Inn. The rest of the Massanutten Military Academy basketball team was engaged with the ESPN broadcast of Maryland’s season opener Friday against Kentucky, but not to this level. Dodd, after all, was watching his future teammates battle the defending national champs.
Five days later, Dodd, a 6-foot-9 center from Centreville, Md., sat behind a table at a small ceremony and officially signed his national letter-of-intent to play for Coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland.
“It was great to get it done, great to get it out the way,” Dodd said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Now I can push on to becoming an elite player in College Park. I’m excited to get there and learn. I’m a big learner of the game. Maryland stuck with Kentucky, played great, got some really good players. I’m happy to come to the program, get some recognition and play hard, get pushed by the guys.”
Dodd, who gave his oral commitment to Maryland in February when he was a senior at Queen Anne’s County High, joins Suitland’s Roddy Peters in the Terrapins’ 2013 recruiting class. Watching Maryland’s 72-69 loss to Kentucky from that hotel, engaged as ever as the Terps made a valiant second-half run, Dodd’s eye was caught by the electric atmosphere at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. And how 31 NBA scouts turned out that evening.
The professional ranks are far away for Dodd, but he’s already made substantial improvements since joining Chad Myers’s program at Massanutten. He’s started all seven games for the Colonels this season, averaging 14 points and nine rebounds for a squad that puts up about 110 points per game.
Dodd has been honing his footwork during the post-graduate year and developed a step-back jumper to go along with some baby hooks. From when he arrived on Aug. 19 to now, Myers said, Dodd has made more improvements than any other teammate. He can pound the ball inside with strength around the rim, but has learned to step out and utilize his size to defend ball screens.
“He’s been tremendous,” Myers said Wednesday. “His jump from his senior high school season to this summer was major. He comes in, works at it every day, gets better. His motor is extremely good no matter what. We try to put him in a situation to work on stuff. Maryland’s been great about sharing stuff they do as well. They’ve really helped us to prepare him for next year and he has huge upside.
“I think he’s very excited. I want these guys to be excited about the next level. I think it helps us prepare for the next season. If we all individually get better, we’ll all be better collectively as a team. He’s always doing early workouts, our staff stays on him, try to get ready for next year. He’s very excited. Knowing him he’d like to get on campus as soon as possible.”
Working out for three to four hours each day, Dodd has soaked up the experience of playing with four other Division I recruits, including Kansas commit Frank Mason. A sociable celebrity on the Woodstock campus, Dodd will happen across young seventh-graders, tearful with homesickness.
“I know a lot of these kids are here for issues, problems,” Dodd said. “I know they’re not having the best lives. I’d rather them look up to me as a role model than a celebrity. Just go tell them, keep it up, keep your grades up, going to be back with your family sooner.”
Away from the court, Dodd plays the five-piece drum set in his local church. His father, uncle and grandfather formed a gospel group called the Newtones back in the 1970s and 1980s, disbanding when the grandfather/singer passed away. Dodd’s father taught him to play the drums, always delivering the same motivational phrase:
“I don’t want you to play like me. I want you to play better than me.”