Damonte Dodd didn’t pay much attention to college basketball growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He didn’t dream of playing for a particular program or of emulating any particular player because those things didn’t seem like real possibilities to him. Dodd was tall, sure, and he played the sport because his aunt didn’t leave him any other appealing option.

But there was so much running involved, and he’d much rather just crash in front of the television and watch his favorite pro wrestlers beat the living tar out of each other. Or pretend to, anyway. Back then, that seemed real. The 6-foot-9 forward who plans to sign with Maryland next week and who will play for the U.S. All-Stars Saturday in the Capital Classic laughed earlier this week as he recalled his old priorities.

“I like [basketball] a lot better now,” said Dodd, who averaged 24 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks as a senior at Queen Anne’s County High. “It’s a lot more fun to play because I’m actually good at it. When you start off and you’re not good, you’re like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ But now that I’m actually good, I don’t mind sticking with it. You just got to have the love of the sport.”

The 39th annual Capital Classic will have a distinctly Maryland flavor, as four members of the Terrapins’ incoming recruiting class are scheduled to compete at T.C. Williams. Passion for the game long has been prevalent in most of the 23 players participating in the main boys’ game, but for Dodd, learning to love basketball remains an ongoing process.

As a child, Dodd attended a youth group that met from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday nights at New Life Church in Centreville, Md. Around 7:30, Dodd would get anxious to head home. WWE SmackDown! aired at 8, and he didn’t want to miss his favorite wrestlers, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Rikishi. Dodd was 12 before he learned the violence he found so fascinating was scripted.

Queen Anne's County forward Damonte Dodd is one of four Maryland recruits playing in the Capital Classic. (Ron Bailey/i95Ballerz.com/COURTESY OFCAPITAL CLASSIC)

“The WWE is so composed in the things that they do and how they set it up,” Dodd said. “They just do things so well, and they make it look so real. When I was growing up, I never knew it was fake until I got older and people said, ‘You know that’s fake, right?’ No, it’s not fake. You can’t tell me it’s fake. No way you can tell me it’s fake. I’ve been watching this for years. How are you going to tell me that?”

Around that time, Dodd’s aunt, Marchelle Ryans, issued her nephew — who then stood 6-1 — an ultimatum: Start playing basketball, or get a job.

Though Dodd continued to grow, he didn’t find basketball engaging. He began his sophomore year at Queen Anne’s on the varsity squad, but quickly was demoted to junior varsity. According to Queen Anne’s Coach Dale Becraft, Dodd wasn’t prepared at that point to make the necessary physical or emotional commitment to the sport. Ryans said she thought Dodd would be upset about the decision. He wasn’t.

It wasn’t until this past summer, when Dodd worked with a personal trainer for the first time, that Becraft noticed Dodd begin to understand his capabilities on the court.

During a scrimmage in November, Dodd leaped from the free throw line and scored with a tomahawk dunk. As the referee ran up the court, he stopped, turned to Becraft and said: “I think he’s got it.”

“That was a big moment for [Dodd] to see that, ‘Hey, I can dominate this,’ ” Becraft said.

On Jan. 17, Dodd tallied 41 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocks during an overtime victory at Kent County. The only college coach in attendance was an assistant from Bowie State. By the time Dodd got on the bus, he said, his phone was buzzing with messages from various coaches at more prominent programs.

The headline in the following day’s edition of the Eastern Shore’s regional newspaper read: Doddzilla Strikes. Maryland offered him a scholarship a month later.

When asked about his moniker, the former professional wrestling enthusiast, who now possesses a different perception of reality, laughed.

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