“At center, a 6-foot-11 freshman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, number 33, DIAMOND STONE.”
This was an introduction Maryland basketball fans thought they would hear every game this year, as Stone was thought to be the dominant big man who rounded out the starting lineup of a national championship contender. His offensive game garnered high praise from coaches and scouts alike, and he was named to the preseason watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award for the nation’s top center.
He was expected to come in and be a force on offense and dominate the glass on both ends of the floor. After all Melo Trimble, who was not as highly regarded as Stone coming out of high school, made a seamless transition from high school to college by leading the Terps in scoring and assists last season. Stone was the number six overall recruit in the country and was supposed to make an immediate impact.
But Stone’s season has gotten off to a rocky start (no pun intended), averaging just 10.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He has started only six out of nine games this season, and has been pulled three times because of early foul trouble. Stone has had a problem proving that his offensive proficiency makes up for the liability he poses on defense.
Against Georgetown, Stone was overwhelmed versus Bradley Hayes, who was able to back him down for easy looks throughout the night. It wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if Stone had converted at the offensive end, but he was intimidated by Georgetown’s size, even pulling up for a jump shot in the second half. Stone is known for post-ups and backing down his opponents, not settling for 10 foot jumpers.
Every player has to make the adjustment from high school to college, but there’s no timetable for how long Stone’s adjustment will take. If you watch Diamond Stone’s senior year mixtape, you see the player Maryland fans want him to be from the start.
He imposes his will on both sides of the floor and his opponents don’t make a real effort to guard him. In high school, Stone had a huge mental advantage and knew he had a chance to get a shot off every time he got the ball in the post. Stone had a physical advantage against almost every player he faced, and in his mixtape he is at least a head taller than anyone trying to guard him. The only time he faced a player who could play competent defense against him was Marquette center Henry Ellenson, who actually made him work for his shots.
In college it is has been different. Stone has been guarded by guys who aren’t intimidated by him. He’s used to getting the ball and being able to do whatever he wants, something he can’t do in college. Before his coming out party against Connecticut, Stone had his most success against the cupcakes on Maryland’s non-conference schedule. That changed Tuesday night when Stone played his best game in a Maryland uniform with an excellent first half on the way to 16 points and nine rebounds.
Stone came out fired up when he checked in with 18:23 left in the first quarter, providing an offensive spark fans had been looking for the whole season. He also showed toughness inside against UConn’s center Amida Brimah, one of the best shot blockers in the nation. He put on a show in the first half, getting himself in great position for layups, and earned every basket down low. He also grabbed six offensive rebounds in the game, which lead to numerous opportunities for second chance points. Even when he missed his first look, he continued to go up strong, drawing fouls and trying to tip it in.
Although it was his best game of the year, there is still room for improvement. Stone was excellent in the first half but cooled off in the second, shooting just 6-16 for the game. He still had a few lapses on offense and defense early in the second half, but that’s expected for a freshman just nine games into his college career. The Huskies also were able to get easier shots in the lane during the second half, which led to the Terps almost squandering a 16 point halftime lead.
Stone had struggled to find his role in the offense, but after last night it looks like he has discovered it. Stone may not be the best post player on the team, but he is still capable of running the floor and getting up good shots around the basket. He may not get the ball every time, but knows his teammates are relying on him to get open if they draw the double team. Damonte Dodd excels at this, and Stone followed his example with a thunderous slam dunk on a fastbreak.
Even though Stone is not the automatic 15 and nine player that Jahlil Okafor was for Duke last year, he still has tremendous potential. There have been signs of brilliance this season, and his Stone can only go up from here. He will continue to split time with Dodd, but as he gets more familiar with the offense and tougher on defense his minutes should increase.
As the season continues and Stone gets more acclimated to the college game he can only improve, and that showed on Tuesday.