Ask Donta Scott’s teammates about him and you’ll get a playful, colorful mix of responses.
Sophomore center Jalen Smith has described the rookie as an “animal” in several different interviews this season. Sophomore wing Aaron Wiggins has called Scott a “wild guy.” Junior guard Darryl Morsell has likened him to a freight train, a bull and seemingly everything in between.
“I don’t even know how to explain Donta,” Morsell said. “Donta’s like a pitbull. If I go in the back alley, I want Donta with me, because I know he’s going to fight for me, he’s going to give it his all.”
As soon as he joined the Terps in College Park, Md., Scott quickly impressed with his toughness and versatility. Those aren’t traits typically ascribed to freshman, but Scott doesn’t look or play like a freshman.
“I would probably think he was a grad transfer or something like that,” Morsell said. “Donta’s an old man, man.”
As old as he may look, Scott, 19, is the youngest member of the Terps’ rotation, and his potential for growth could change the ceiling for a team with aspirations of a deep NCAA Tournament run. Through 24 games this season, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound freshman is averaging 5.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 20.4 minutes. Since December, he has slid into the starting lineup and held his own against imposing Big Ten frontcourts as the regular power forward.
Scott isn’t a man of many words in interviews, but when asked about the challenges presented by then-No. 12 Ohio State in a January matchup, he made it known he wasn’t intimidated.
“They bleed just the way I bleed,” Scott said.
The Philadelphia native’s game revolves around toughness and energy. He usually plays with more gifted scorers, so his efforts don’t always translate to the stat sheet. But he’s a capable shooter and a solid rebounder, and he has the length and quickness to guard almost any opponent. He likes to say that his game is whatever his team needs it to be.
“I always feel like I could step on the court with anybody and just play my game,” Scott said, “and I’ve always been about the team, so just getting the team a win is the most important thing at the end of the day.”
He’s done plenty of winning at every level. Scott led Philadelphia’s Imhotep Charter High School — which also produced former Terps football star DJ Moore — to three straight Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 4A state titles and three straight Philadelphia Public League championships. He won 4A Player of the Year his last two seasons and scored 20 points in his final state championship game. In the City of Palms Classic semifinals in Fort Myers, Fla., Scott scored 25 to lead Imhotep past national powerhouse Oak Hill, led by top recruit and current North Carolina freshman Cole Anthony.
Scott was a consensus three-star recruit, ranked as the No. 145 overall prospect and No. 35 small forward in the 2019 class, per 247Sports’ composite rankings. He held offers from a handful of power-conference programs in addition to local schools like LaSalle, but Maryland separated itself in his recruitment. Scott officially visited the school in September 2018, committed in October and signed in December. He joined twin big men Makhi and Makhel Mitchell in the Terps’ signing class. Maryland later added wing Hakim Hart and center Chol Marial to the class.
Like the other healthy members of the class — Marial debuted in December after undergoing surgery in the fall — Scott was a sporadic contributor early in the season. He debuted with a nine-point, six-rebound performance against Holy Cross Nov. 5 and made his first career start against Fairfield Nov. 19. But his role constantly shifted as Makhi Mitchell moved into the starting lineup, or as Hart saw his minutes increase throughout November.
It’s been a different story since December, though. The Mitchell twins transferred out of the program after Christmas. A shortened rotation no longer regularly includes Hart. Marial’s game has a ways to go after missing multiple seasons due to injury.
Scott, on the other hand, has stepped up. He’s been a regular member of the starting lineup since late December. On Jan. 18 against Purdue, Scott hit two triples and had 11 points after just 12 minutes of play. He finished with 13 points.
“He’s really important to us,” Turgeon said after the Purdue game. “He helps us space the floor, and [when] he’s got it, they have to be accountable. He’s just another guy, so that gives you five guys on the floor that can score.”
Maryland’s five leading scorers include four guards, and while those five have been effective together, Scott gives the Terps extra physicality while still allowing them to space the floor around Smith, who’s playing at an All-American level. In a perfect world, Scott becomes a more consistent 3-point shooter. Though 57 of his 111 field-goal attempts through Feb. 14 are from deep, he’s hit just 31.6 percent of them. His team trusts him, though, and that’s no small feat on a team with Final Four aspirations.
Whatever his role is down the stretch, Maryland knows it can count on Scott’s heart and toughness. He’s played this way since he was a kid, motivated by people saying he’d never be good enough.
“I just went out to the park every day and played. That’s where I got most of my toughness from,” Scott said. “People expect you to be tough [in Philadelphia], but not everybody is going to have that toughness. I just go out there every day as if it’s my last, and go hard.”
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