Coach Mark Turgeon called Hart’s game against the climbers a 79-61 win for the Terps, “the best game he played”.
Hart’s Philly Pride AAU coach Howard Hudson watched this matchup as his two former players Hart and second striker Donta Scott each performed solidly. Hudson called them both afterward, congratulating Scott on his 17 career points and praising Hart for how his three pointers opened the game.
“I’ve seen how he can score when he’s confident,” said Hudson.
And recordings like the one Hart took on Sunday afternoon help build that confidence. When Hudson spoke to his former player after the game, he could see that Hart was satisfied and that his performance had given him a boost. But if others overheard this call, they would not have noticed because Hart is so calm and reserved. His nickname in high school was the Silent Assassin.
Hart, a 6-foot-6 guard, had a limited role as a freshman last season but is now familiar with Maryland’s system. During the off-season he worked with assistant coach Matt Brady on his jump shot. He’s still growing and feeling more comfortable at college play, but Hart has already proven he’s far more involved in the Terps offensive than he was a year ago.
Hart has played at least 17 minutes in all three Maryland games, compared to last year when he only recorded more than 10 minutes five times. He didn’t shoot the ball well in the opener but otherwise had a solid performance. Turgeon later said he wanted to find ways to get Hart more involved. In the next two games combined, Hart made 5 out of 10 shots and scored a career high of 11 points against Navy.
“His effort and energy were very different from when he arrived here,” said junior guard Eric Ayala. “It helps him during these games. He has a lot more to show. He is capable of a great deal. “
Hart started his first year playing in almost all of the Terps’ non-conference matchups, but his minutes hit double digits on blowout wins. As soon as the conference game started, Hart’s role dwindled, eventually disappearing from the rotation for 10 games.
“I understood it as a learning process,” said Hart, “by watching every single game from the bench.”
Late last season, when the Terps took on the road against the state of Ohio, Hart earned the nod off the bench in front of Serrel Smith Jr., who served as the fifth guard in Maryland’s rotation for much of the 2019-20 campaign, and then after East moved to Tennessee State this past off-season. Hart’s role grew in the three games that followed his return to rotation. He didn’t try many shots. His job was to play smart and use his length to defend himself. Hart finished his new season with 28 points. He has already scored 19 three games in his sophomore year.
With Hart showing up late in his first season and leaving Smith, the second player role is poised to expand this year. In the off-season, Hart focused on “being louder as a player, strengthening my body and being more confident”.
When Hart started playing AAU ball for Hudson after eighth grade, Hart wanted to run into the corner and hit three. He wasn’t that big at the time, so Hudson told Hart, “You’re going to have to learn how to use basketball and the guards are going to talk.” Hudson made Hart call out games during practice, a challenge at first because other players said they couldn’t hear Hart. But Hart improved and his coaches realized that he was pretty good at handling the ball.
Years later, Hart enrolled at Roman Catholic High, a school in Philadelphia that plays a national schedule, and Coach Matt Griffin initially thought Hart was a catch-and-shoot player. Hart scored more than 1,000 points in two seasons and met the game winner in the title game of the Catholic League – but he also developed into a strong defender, with Griffin sometimes having him protect the opponent’s best player and Hart recording the team’s best support – to Conversion ratio.
“In his senior year we put the ball in his hands a lot,” said Griffin, “because we knew he would make really good decisions with the ball.” Its role has certainly expanded. … In his senior year he was by far the best player in the league. “
Initially, Hart was primarily recruited from medium-sized schools. He became involved with St. Joseph’s but reopened his recruiting when the school fired coach Phil Martelli in March 2019, just before Hart graduated from high school. This time, after this stellar senior season, top college programs including Michigan and Virginia showed interest in Hart, and he got involved in Maryland that spring.
“They had a great plan for me as a player,” said Hart of the Terps staff. “They showed me how to get better at every aspect of the game.”
The early part of his college career required patience – a big adjustment after his career as a successful high school scorer. But Griffin said Hart was never upset about the lack of playing time during his first season.
Griffin and another high school coach attended Maryland’s game at Rutgers in March. Hart had recently worked his way back into the rotation. He played 13 minutes and only scored one point that night. When Griffin went to see Hart afterward, he asked about his previous college basketball experience.
“Oh, I love it,” Hart said to his former coach. And that was before it turned into a much better sophomore with a bigger role on the team.