“Donta's different,” Morsell said. “He's like a bull. … I guess it's the Philly in him.”
In transition, Morsell said the freshman plays like a “freight train coming downhill.”
Scott and forward Makhi Mitchell were the first freshmen on the court during the opener, and they’re both poised to earn meaningful playing time this season. Scott played 18 minutes against Holy Cross and 19 in the exhibition game. In both matchups, his time on the court skewed closer to that of the returners than his fellow freshmen.
Those two contests against inferior opponents do little to indicate how performances will translate through the season. But Saturday’s game against a solid Rhode Island team will start to provide answers.
In the first half against Holy Cross, when the Terps’ rotation more closely resembled that of a typical game, Scott played 10 minutes, scoring six points during that stretch. He made his college debut when Coach Mark Turgeon substituted four of his starters with the game tied after six minutes. The group of four reserves, along with starting point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., sparked a 12-2 run that gave Maryland a comfortable lead for the first time.
With seven returners from last year’s rotation, Scott and Mitchell could fill out a nine-man corps this season. Mitchell’s twin brother, Makhel, played seven minutes against Holy Cross, while freshman guard Hakim Hart entered late in the second half and hit a three-pointer.
Makhi Mitchell played only eight minutes against Holy Cross but finished with six points and three rebounds. All of his points came during a 3½-minute stretch in the second half. Between two of his layups, Mitchell had a long pass to sophomore Serrel Smith Jr., who converted a fast-break layup.
Maryland struggled to hit shots from deep in the opener, but Scott was one of the four players with a three-pointer. Earlier in the game, Scott corralled Jalen Smith’s miss and turned it into an emphatic dunk.
The freshmen provided “a lot of energy,” Cowan said after the game. “The twins really gave us that big aggressiveness that we need down low. Donta came in, and he had a nice putback dunk, one of the best I’ve probably seen. He was pretty high on that.”
A year ago, Turgeon had no choice but to thrust freshmen into games and starting roles. Freshmen took five of eight spots in the rotation. Jalen Smith and Eric Ayala started nearly every game. This season, with the luxury of returning talent, Turgeon can wait until the first-year players are ready. But particularly in Scott’s case, it appears some are already prepared.
“Donta’s got the toughness,” Turgeon said. “He’s got a really good feel. … Donta gets better every day. And when the lights come on, he’s pretty good.”
Since arriving at Maryland, Scott has had to master two positions, small forward and power forward, and Turgeon said, “I’ve got him a little bit more confused than anything else right now.” That increases the learning curve, which is already significant for freshmen, but Scott has veterans to lean on for help, including Morsell, who also had to learn multiple positions as a freshman.
Turgeon said Scott will primarily play at power forward to begin the season. But once the team progresses into its Big Ten schedule, Scott could play more at small forward, thanks to expected improvement from the 6-foot-10 Mitchell twins and the possible debut of Chol Marial, the 7-2 freshman center who had surgery in September to repair stress fractures in both legs. Until then, the Terps still have new options to go along with their deep pool of players who returned.
Makhel Mitchell, a three-star recruit who came in alongside his more highly touted brother, has been the most pleasant surprise, playing better than what Turgeon said he expected. All four healthy freshmen have proved to be good passers who understand the game well. When asked after Friday’s practice to describe the freshman class, Ayala pointed to the court, where Hart and the Mitchells were taking extra shots while having fun, too. They have the potential but not the pressure of Ayala and his sophomore classmates, who knew they would make up the core of last year’s team right away.
“They all have such an upside, which is good,” Turgeon said. “But are they all ready to play? Yeah, they’re all ready to play. Are they ready to help us win a league championship? Maybe not, but not many freshmen in the country are at this point. So I’m really proud of my young guys.”