Dodd grows up and aims to step up
Senior eager to bring leadership to Terps amid influx of new faces
COLLEGE PARK — The first time Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon saw Damonte Dodd work out was also nearly the last.
It came during Turgeon’s first season after succeeding future Hall of Famer Gary Williams, and the new coach needed players, especially big men.
At the time, Dodd was a lightly regarded prospect on the Eastern Shore with one Division I offer, from Morgan State.
“I needed to sign like seven guys that year and I thought, ‘Maybe we can make him a player,’ ” Turgeon recalled Thursday during the Big Ten Media Day in Washington. “‘We’ll take a chance on him — he’s 6-11.’ And then the first workout we had with him, it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I Season opener Nov. 11, 7 p.m. TV: Big Ten Network Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM
made a huge mistake.’ ”
That feeling followed Dodd into his freshman year, where he played sparingly behind Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare. Yet there was enough that Dodd showed on the court — including an impressive stretch in a second-half comeback at Duke — to make Turgeon think it might work out.
By the start of his sophomore year, Turgeon had no other options. Mitchell and Cleare were among the five players with remaining eligibility to transfer and Dodd was the only experienced center left in the program. He wound up starting 31of 35 games on a 28-7 team, the first to reach the NCAA tournament in five years.
“He was the starting center on a team that won 28 games, most regular-season wins ever. [That] shows you how far he’s come,” Turgeon said. “He’s grown as a basketball player, as far as his knowledge of the game on both ends of the floor. He’s much more skilled than I thought he was going to be.”
As the Terps celebrated the start of their 2016-17 season with Maryland Madness on Friday night, Dodd was one of the more familiar faces on a team that includes six new players, five freshmen and graduate transfer L.G. Gill. Dodd is the only player aside from star junior Melo Trimble who has started extensively.
“Melo’s running the offense and as a lot of people know me, I run the defense,” Dodd said in Washington on Thursday. “I’m just telling guys where to be on the defensive end, help-side and things like that. I’m just trying to be a leader on defense. That’s my niche, that’s what I know.”
Known mostly as a shot blocker and defensive post presence, Dodd has been very limited on the offensive end. In 90 games, Dodd has scored in double figures only once, a career-high 13 points in a win over Illinois State in the semifinals of last season’s Cancun Challenge.
Dodd said he has spent the offseason working on his low-post offensive game with assistant coach Bino Ranson, trying to add a jump hook and expand his range and accuracy with a baseline turnaround he has shot with some success the past two seasons.
“I have to be more of an offensive threat,” Dodd said. “Coach Turgeon and I have had plenty of meetings where he’s said, ‘We need you to score more.’ I’m fine with that. I always have flashbacks. In high school [at Queen Anne’s], I was a scorer.”
Said Turgeon, “The piece that’s missing for him offensively is the low-post scoring, and I think he’s going to give it to us this year.”
Turgeon sees beyond the stats to judge Dodd’s value to his team and the way it plays.
“There’s no one better in the country in transition at getting the ball to the point guards in position to make plays for themselves and other players like Damonte,” Turgeon said. “He’s terrific at it, L.G. Gill, a transfer from Duquesne, competes in the dunk contest. For a blog post about Melo Trimble’s rare dunk Friday night — and video of the Terps talking about it — go to baltimoresun.com/ trackingterps. and he’s helping teach our other guys how to do it.
With Diamond Stone, who took over as Maryland’s starting center midway through last season, leaving for the NBA after his freshman year, Dodd is back as the team’s likely starting center. He will share the minutes this year with junior Michal Cekovsky, as well as redshirt sophomore Ivan Bender and freshman Joshua Tomaic.
“Defensively he’s the anchor. He’s smart,” Turgeon said. “He’s been a rebounder. And ultimately, the best thing on the court about Damonte is that he just wants the team to win.”
Along with making a third straight NCAA tournament, Dodd has another goal for his senior year. He plans on graduating in the spring with a degree in African-American studies. It’s a promise he made to his grandmother and other members of his family.
“I don’t know how many people in my family graduated [from college], but not too many have. I can leave Maryland with a degree,” Dodd said. “My grandmother always told me basketball is not going to be here forever, you’re going to have a Plan B.”
Turgeon has seen the growth off the court from Dodd as well.
“He’s become a good role model,” Turgeon said. “He’s a great family guy. ... He just does so many things. That’s why you coach college, to be around guys like him.”
Damonte Dodd, left, sits with Melo Trimble during Maryland Madness on Friday night. In his senior season, Dodd is focused on having a greater scoring impact for the Terps.