The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland missed out on Hunter Dickinson, but its recent local recruiting tells a different story

Hunter Dickinson starred at DeMatha and then headed to Michigan, where he is one of the Big Ten’s top players as a freshman. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)
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On a frigid Monday night in February, thousands of basketball fans packed into American University’s Bender Arena for one of the area’s best annual attractions: the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship games.

In the boys’ final that night — between DeMatha Catholic from Hyattsville and Paul VI of Fairfax County — at least seven players had received multiple scholarship offers from Power Five programs. Three seniors, all ranked as top-50 recruits in the country, headlined the group: Paul VI guard Jeremy Roach, DeMatha forward Earl Timberlake and DeMatha center Hunter Dickinson.

Graduation was months away, but each had already made his college decision. None had chosen to stay home and play for the D.C. area’s most prominent program, Maryland. Roach was headed to Duke, Timberlake to Miami and Dickinson to Michigan.

And so there’s a narrative — which some dissatisfied fans have amplified — that the Terrapins rarely land the best prospects in their backyard.

No DeMatha product has played for the Terps since Travis Garrison joined the team in 2002, but Stags Coach Mike Jones insists there’s no animosity between his program and its collegiate neighbor just two miles up Route 1. In the past decade, Maryland has welcomed only two freshmen from the WCAC — O’Connell guard Melo Trimble and St. John’s guard Anthony Cowan Jr. Both became stars in College Park, but their success hasn’t extinguished the conversation.

Though its pipeline of players from DeMatha is nonexistent and its stream of WCAC prospects is only on par with other top programs recruiting this area, Maryland does depend on local recruits. When assessing the full landscape of local recruiting, spanning both D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland’s recent list of highly rated commits stacks up.

But Dickinson, now starring for the Wolverines as one of the country’s best big men, single-handedly reignited questions about Maryland’s local recruiting success. Before Michigan’s game against the Terps last month, Dickinson told reporters, “I did feel a little disrespected when I wasn’t recruited by them.”

Maryland offered Dickinson a scholarship during the fall of his sophomore year, but the Terps were missing from the conversation by the time he named his final seven possibilities. Dickinson, the reigning All-Met Player of the Year, will face the Terps again Tuesday when Maryland travels to Ann Arbor. In December, after a Wolverines win in which he scored 26 points and earned a technical foul for glaring at the Maryland bench, Dickinson doubled down on his comments.

“Hopefully I showed that the guys down the road at Madison Street are pretty good,” he said, referring to DeMatha. “And they should go down there sometime [to recruit].”

‘What’s the issue?’

Coach Mark Turgeon’s staff at Maryland did prioritize Dickinson early in the recruiting process. At one point, Dickinson said the Terps’ coaches — particularly assistant Dustin Clark, who left the team in 2018 — talked with him regularly.

“I like Hunter and his family. His parents and I had a great relationship,” Clark said. “It was crazy to hear him say he wasn’t recruited by Maryland, because it’s simply not true. He was recruited as hard as any underclassman that we ever recruited to Maryland.”

Jones, who coached Dickinson throughout his high school career, said the 7-foot-1, 255-pounder may have been using perceived slights as motivation during that game in College Park.

“Let’s give Hunter the credit he deserves: He dominated that game,” said the DeMatha coach, who also noted Maryland did recruit Dickinson. “And he used some information, whether you believe or not doesn’t matter — Hunter took that and it fueled him to have that type of game.”

Dickinson is averaging 16.8 points and 7.7 rebounds this season, and the Terps have a big hole at the position he plays. A pair of local signings the Terps made in the previous class probably didn’t help their chances of landing Dickinson, if he was still legitimately considering Maryland.

Maryland added twin big men Makhi and Makhel Mitchell from D.C. The Mitchells committed early in the recruiting process — in August 2017, when Dickinson was beginning his sophomore year of high school. In recruiting, timing and projected playing time often drive decisions, and to Dickinson, the Mitchells may have represented a position already covered. Both of the Mitchells left the program a few months into the 2019-20 season, leaving the Terps with a void on their roster this year that’s even more glaring because of the local talent at some Big Ten schools.

Maryland did not recruit Luka Garza, now a national player of the year candidate as a senior at Iowa. Garza, a Northern Virginia native who played for Maret School in the District, was the No. 118 overall recruit in the 2017 class, according to composite rankings by 247Sports. But Turgeon instead signed Bruno Fernando. During two seasons in College Park, Fernando developed into an all-conference player and an NBA draft pick. Maryland faced Iowa twice during Fernando’s career; the Terps won both meetings, and Fernando outscored Garza each time.

“What’s the issue?” Jones said, referring to any criticism of Maryland’s recruiting. “Mark Turgeon has developed pros. … What are you complaining about in terms of recruiting?”

Since 2010, Maryland has landed eight players considered four- or five-star prospects by 247Sports from high schools within a 50-mile radius of College Park. (That total doesn’t include the three local four-star players signed or committed to Maryland in the 2021 and 2022 classes.) Some of those Terps, such as forward Jalen Smith and Cowan, established themselves as all-time greats during their careers, but others, such as Makhi Mitchell and Roddy Peters, ultimately transferred.

In that time, Villanova, which won national titles in 2016 and 2018, has brought in six players of that caliber from schools in the region. Miami and Georgetown have each signed three of these players. No other program — including Duke and North Carolina — has landed more than two.

“We have had a philosophy since we’ve been at Maryland that, if we have a need at a certain position, we would build a list locally first,” said Turgeon, who must compete for talent with a handful of top-tier programs that are only a short drive away. “We try to identify early in the process to get a feel for who wants to stay home or who wants to go away to school.”

When the Terps won a share of the Big Ten regular season title a year ago, three of their starters — Cowan, along with Smith and Darryl Morsell from Mount Saint Joseph in Baltimore — had played for local high schools. The Terps have maintained their Baltimore pipeline, recently signing four-star forward Julian Reese and four-star guard Ike Cornish, top-100 recruits set to join the team this summer.

In the 2022 class, four-star point guard Paul Lewis has committed to Maryland. Lewis plays for O’Connell, where Trimble starred. Top programs started recruiting Lewis after a breakout game in his sophomore year. He had followed the Terps and been a fan since Trimble committed.

“If I’m being honest, I already wanted to go to Maryland,” Lewis said. “Once they started recruiting me, I knew I was going to end up going there.”

Offers from near and far

As Turgeon secures commitments from other local prospects, Jones must answer a recurring question: Why doesn’t DeMatha send its top players to Maryland? Some insist there should be a parade of talent headed to College Park. Jones, who took over for the legendary Morgan Wootten in 2002, said he ignores much of the criticism.

Though none has attended Maryland, Jones has coached six NBA players at DeMatha, including two-time all-star Victor Oladipo and 2017 No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz.

“It would make my life much easier if one of our guys did go there, I acknowledge that,” Jones said. “But I will never tell my kids where to go or where not to go. Not one of my players or their families will tell you that I told them not to go to the University of Maryland.”

Jones said any conversation about local recruiting must include the caveat that this area is unlike any other for high school basketball. Not only does it produce tons of talent, but that talent is aggressively recruited by programs from all over. The allure of leaving home is always present, and there is a model in place for how to take that route to success.

It all started with Kevin Durant in 2006, Jones said. The future NBA superstar played high school ball at now-defunct Montrose Christian in Rockville. He then had a dominant season at Texas, and leaving home suddenly seemed attractive to others.

High school basketball has become increasingly national, with top players and programs traveling the country in search of the best competition. It’s no longer assumed the best local players will attend that area’s top high school, let alone the nearby high-major college program.

Gonzaga’s Judah Mintz, one of Maryland’s targets in the Class of 2022, is a prototypical D.C. prospect: strong career at a top WCAC program, offers from near and far. The Terps join George Mason and Georgetown as local programs that have offered a scholarship to the four-star guard, but he has also heard from Florida, LSU and Wake Forest. Like every prospect Maryland will recruit from now on, Mintz was born after the Terps captured their lone national title in 2002.

Mintz, who grew up in this area and first attended a Maryland basketball camp in middle school, said location will not be a defining factor in his decision as long as he’s comfortable on campus and can see his family.

At Gonzaga, located in Northwest Washington, Mintz’s classmates pepper him with advice, often pushing for Maryland or Georgetown. He wasn’t aware of any recruiting narrative about the Terps — until Dickinson’s comments sparked a fresh round of discussion on social media. But he’s unfazed by that dialogue and thinks it might be cool to play close to home.

“Everybody wants to be somewhere where it seems like the people really want you,” Mintz said.

And Maryland does want the top local players. The Terps’ recent rosters prove how much the program has relied on these prospects who develop into stars in College Park. But Maryland wanting the recruit isn’t always enough. The player — who may be influenced by his coaches, peers or the allure of playing for a blue blood that churns out one-and-done stars — must also want the Terps.

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