Maryland men's basketball center Damonte Dodd grew up on the Eastern Shore, a rural area his mother, Natasha Wright, admits doesn't produce many Division I athletes. So, even as Dodd emerged as a Queen Anne's County High School standout, he and his mother planned to use the sport to fulfill a larger goal. He'd go to college, play basketball and earn a degree.
At first, the pair expected Dodd to receive a few Division III offers. Soon, Division II schools, such as Bowie State, showed interest. Morgan State and Coppin State — two low-level Division I programs in Baltimore — reached out after that.
And in February 2012, Dodd's recruitment peaked. Maryland's coaching staff saw potential in the 6-foot-11 big man who could jump and run the floor. If Dodd developed the right work ethic, the Terps believed he could become a serviceable frontcourt option. They offered him a scholarship. Dodd immediately accepted.
Over the last five years — the first at a prep school and the past four under coach Mark Turgeon — Dodd has become a defensive stalwart on a team that's made three straight NCAA tournaments. Thursday, the Terps' longest-tenured player will begin his final postseason when No. 6-seed Maryland plays its first-round game against No. 11-seed Xavier in Orlando, Florida.
"Time flew, but it's been a great four years," Dodd said before Senior Day against Michigan State on March 4. "I've been here for ups and downs and things like that, but Coach Turgeon has been a great coach. When I went to Maryland, they took me in as a family. It's been a great four years, and I'm glad I played here."
Dodd has anchored Maryland's frontcourt this season, starting 23 games and averaging a career-high 6.4 points per contest. While he ranks third in rebounding, the Centreville native leads the team with 50 blocks, double the next closest player. He now has 140 career swats, the eighth-most in program history, and can pad that total Thursday as the Terps' starting center.
He saw limited time as a freshman, an unfamiliar predicament after averaging 24 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks in his senior year at Queen Anne's County. Wright said the experience humbled her son, who 247sports ranked as a three-star recruit.
When Dodd arrived in College Park, assistant coach Bino Ranson admitted he was a raw talent. Ranson said Dodd possessed the desired attributes of a formidable Division I big man but lacked a polished skillset. So, after helping Dodd bulk up, the coaching staff emphasized drills to improve his defensive prowess.
"Having a rim protector is key," Ranson said, "and we would see flashes in practice as a freshman, like, 'Wow, this kid could be a pretty good defensive player,' which he's become.'"
Those instances have become more common as Dodd has matured. For instance, guard Jared Nickens realized a few practices into his freshman year Dodd was a defensive force. He remembered Dodd, then a sophomore, pinning several balls against the backboard.
Turgeon said Dodd made a "big jump" that season. The team's two starting big men transferred after a 17-15 year, so Dodd started 31 games during the 2014-15 campaign. He averaged four points and 3.8 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game, but his contributions helped the Terps finish 28-7 with their first NCAA tournament since 2010.
"He just does whatever we ask," Turgeon said. "It's not like we throw him the ball a lot. He has to get his points off rolling and around the basket and second-chance points, and he's always accepted that and he's always tried to be the best defender he could be."
Before Dodd's junior year, the Terps welcomed consensus top-10 recruit Diamond Stone, who played one year in College Park before the Los Angeles Clippers picked the center in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft.
Forward Robert Carter Jr., a Georgia Tech transfer, also made his Maryland debut as the team's other frontcourt starter. Carter averaged 12.3 points per game and declared for the draft after the season, too.
Dodd started 13 games during that 2015-16 campaign, yet he managed a positive impact. In September and October, Ranson said Dodd "swallowed up" Stone in practice. The McDonald's All-American couldn't score over his veteran teammate.
Despite coming off the bench, Dodd averaged almost the same amount of playing time he earned as a sophomore.
"They had other players, and they weren't really looking to him as much as they did his sophomore year," Wright said. "That's really where he had to step it up so that he could be a contributor. And that's the way he did it was with his defense."
Dodd spent much of this season in the starting lineup, given those early draft entries and a slew of frontcourt injuries.
Still, Dodd has excelled, and he's no longer just a defensive specialist. Ranson has worked with him to develop a low-post game, which has helped increase his scoring total. After Maryland's win over Indiana on Jan. 10, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean called Dodd "the best screen-and-roll player in the league."
Turgeon didn't have such expectations for Dodd when he recruited him. The Terps were looking for a big body, and Dodd filled that need.
"The kid's had a pretty fabulous career," Turgeon said, "for where he came from out of high school."
But now, Dodd will play a crucial role as Maryland attempts a Sweet 16 return, a development he and his mom never anticipated.
Once Dodd committed to Maryland, "Everything else had kind of has been such a blessing," Wright said. "It has been like a dream come true."