Friday, December 29, 2023

Lawn Maintenance

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Under average driving conditions, just two-and-half hours behind the wheel will cover the drive from Philadelphia to the University of Maryland.  The directions are simple: merge on to I-95 South, set the cruise control until the D.C. Beltway, take the Route 1/College Park exit, head south for a couple minutes and…Welcome to Turtleville.  If you miss the turn onto campus, purely by accident of course, RJ Bentley’s is just down the road and offers adult elixirs, artery-clogging culinary treats and a full immersion into Terrapin mania.

A handful of years ago, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott made that trip from Philly while prospecting for a college and a basketball destination.  The allure of Maryland would have been understandable for the two Philadelphia residents – a school close to home and a basketball program, one that had made the NCAA Tournament in four of its first five years since joining the Big 10 conference, that offered stability and consistent access to college basketball’s best competition.    

Fast-forward several years and the returns on that assessment of Maryland is mixed: the competition was as advertised, but the experience for Hart and Scott has been anything but stable.

The relationship between the University and its two recruits from the City of Brotherly Love started out well, as most relationships do.  During their 2019-2020 freshman season, Hart and Scott were contributors on a nationally ranked Terps team.  Led by senior PG Anthony Cowan and F Jalen Smith, Maryland won 24 games, were co-regular season Big 10 champions and appeared poised for an NCAA Tournament run.

Then…you know…COVID.  The tournament was canceled and Terps’ season ended as quickly as a snap of Thanos’s fingers.  Cowan’s career at Maryland was over; Smith, who was just a sophomore, left for the NBA.  Like so many student athletes at all levels, the 2019-2020 Terps deserved a better fate.  But in 2020, life wasn’t delivering many fairy tale endings.

Hart and Scott’s sophomore season was a struggle.  An undersized Terps team battled to a 17-14 overall record and managed a win in the NCAA Tournament.  Considering the departed talent from the season before and the COVID-dictated scheduling challenges and empty arenas, the Turtles made the best of it. 

The next year was an abject disaster.  After a 5-3 start, and with patience running thin on his modest March and Tournament success, head coach Mark Turgeon and the University mutually agreed to part ways.  Frankly, Turgeon quit on his team – kids he had no doubt asked for unwavering commitment.  The team understandably tanked under interim coach Danny Manning and recorded Maryland men’s basketball’s first losing season since 1989.

The expectation, given the transfer portal and the flexibility it offers athletes, was that every Maryland player with remaining eligibility would run for the exits.  The coach that recruited them left.  The team cratered.  A new coach with new philosophies was inbound.  Check please.

But Scott and Hart stayed for their senior seasons.  This not what players do now.  Nor should they in cases like this.  Hart and Scott certainly could have left.  They probably even deserved to leave - college eligibility is finite and precious.  Instead, they honored their commitment to Maryland.  On the court this season, the results have been fantastic: a twenty-plus win season, an NCAA berth, a packed Xfinity Center and all expectations exceeded.  The credit is not Hart’s and Scott’s alone, but they served as a bridge from the past, a mooring for the fragile present a foundation on which to build a future. 

It being easier to replace than to nurture or repair, the search for greener personal grass – a better job, car, house or even spouse - is something of a societal compulsion now.  Scott and Hart, displaying character beyond their years, chose to aerate and fertilize their Maryland lawn and to return to a sub-.500 team and a new coach, instead of leaping to a seemingly better situation.  With Maryland’s long and distinguished list of elite players, Hart’s and Scott’s basketball measurables won’t pop, but these days, young men dedicating four years to a university and leading through tumultuous times rivals any statistical compilation. 

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