Ricky Lindo Jr., a freshman from the District, has become a key piece in Maryland's rotation despite signing late. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

By the time fall classes started at Maryland, the Terrapins basketball team had already been working out together since June and then spent 10 days in Italy later in the summer. But Ricky Lindo Jr., who initially planned to spend a post-graduate year at prep school, came late into the fold, playing AAU ball while the Terrapins were developing chemistry.

When Maryland’s need of frontcourt depth led Coach Mark Turgeon to offer Lindo a spot on the team this season, Lindo’s plans changed. By mid-August, he had arrived in College Park to start making up for lost time, which, on one day in early September, included a team-bonding outing to ride go karts.

Before the players started riding, they were told anyone who wasn’t 18 needed a parent to sign a waiver. They all looked at Lindo, 17 at the time. Turgeon signed the release, and the ribbing from teammates began in earnest, their jokes amplified by the fact Lindo still doesn’t have a driver’s license. (“I’m getting it soon!” said Lindo, now 18.)

So far this season, though, the freshman from Wilson High in the District has played with an energy that has all but forced Turgeon to put him in the Terrapins’ rotation. While a pair of Lindo’s fellow freshmen have just turned 20, Lindo has delivered key contributions as the young team continues a strong start to its Big Ten schedule.

“I always dreamed about it,” Lindo said of playing for Maryland. “I never thought it would actually happen.”

When Lindo first arrived on campus, he said he struggled through the first couple weeks of practice. The new conditioning wore him out, and he still hadn’t learned all the plays. But Turgeon would ask his team who was playing well in pick-up, and they’d say, “Ricky. Coach, he’s really good.”

A 6-foot-8 forward with an even longer wingspan, Lindo played just two minutes in Maryland’s road game at Purdue. He hit an early three-pointer, but Turgeon later said, “I really didn’t give him a chance after that to play.” Still, Lindo’s dad, Ricardo, noticed a difference in his son’s body language as he watched from home. Lindo’s seemed to let the game come to him — and it did.

Two days later, when Maryland played Loyola Chicago in Baltimore, starting forwards Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith both ran into early foul trouble, so Lindo stepped in for a season-high 24 minutes.

“That's when everything started changing,” Lindo’s dad said.

Since then, the player said his confidence has only grown. Against Radford, he nearly had a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds. In Maryland’s win over No. 24 Nebraska, Lindo preserved the victory when he deflected a pass on the Cornhuskers’ final possession.

“Ricky’s just playing with high energy,” Turgeon said. “He made a big three for us the other night [at Minnesota]. He works hard every day on shooting the ball. He’s going to be a really good shooter for us in time. But defensively is where he’s really been great.”

Damon Handon, the program director at AAU club D.C. Premier, saw Lindo as a high-major player but said some college coaches had doubts. The Terps didn’t heavily recruit Lindo until this summer. Lindo played with Makhel and Makhi Mitchell, the twins who will join the Terrapins next season, so the Maryland staff saw Lindo often on the AAU circuit. An honorable mention All-Met as a senior at Wilson, Lindo helped his AAU team win two championships.

Lindo planned to play for Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.) in his prep year. He had even asked if he could move there early, as soon as the AAU season finished in late July, his dad said. Lindo was excited and ready to get better. Then, Maryland offered him a scholarship, needing depth after the departure of Schnider Herard. Lindo and his dad visited in early August, and Lindo committed on Aug. 15.

“He was playing catch-up from day one,” Lindo’s dad said. “It hasn't been easy for him, I'll tell you that much. It hasn't been easy. Whatever he's getting, he has earned it.”

While Lindo’s AAU and high school coaches believed in his potential, they also knew he had missed the entire summer. Handon thought maybe Maryland would redshirt Lindo to give him time to develop. That had been the incentive of attending prep school.

“The fact that he is where he is now, and he’s broken into the rotation, which I told him would be really hard to do and stay there, is amazing to me,” said Angelo Hernandez, who coached Lindo at Wilson.

Lindo began high school at 5-foot-11 — his dad thought he’d be a shooting guard — but then Lindo quickly grew and gained weight. A recent MRI showed Lindo’s growth plate was still open, his dad said, so he could even grow a couple more inches.

Lindo is versatile; this summer, he showed he could guard on the wing and guard the big men. Plus, he can shoot, even though Maryland’s primarily relying on his length on the defensive end. Handon sees Lindo as someone who could be a three-year starter for Maryland.

“Just continue to watch him,” said John Perry, who coached Lindo at D.C. Premier. “Because he will surprise you. All he’s going to do is get better.”

When Maryland played at Minnesota, knocking off the Golden Gophers for the team’s fourth straight win, Hernandez kept up with the game from his phone. He saw a few tweets, ones that mentioned Lindo’s remarkable stretch in the second half. The freshman hit a three-pointer and had three rebounds, two blocks and a steal — all in three minutes.

Hernandez took a screenshot of the tweets and read them again the following morning. He sent the screenshot to Lindo, accompanied by the eyeballs emoji, his way of excitedly saying, “What’s going on here?”

After all, Hernandez said, “it’s fun to see a kid grow up.”

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