Diamond Stone’s growth propels Maryland to Sweet 16
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SPOKANE, Wash. — Diamond Stone sat down at his locker and, as many millennials do in special moments, grabbed his phone. But the 6’11” freshman center from Maryland ignored his 115 text messages, instead choosing to focus on a social media outlet. “Gotta get this picture up on Instagram!” he said, exuberant from his 14-point performance in the No. 5 Terrapins’ 73–60 win over No. 13 Hawaii in the South region.
To all of Stone’s friends and family members still waiting for a response: Forgive him, but he has some celebrating to do first. Because Maryland is headed to its first Sweet 16 since 2003, and Stone is a (literally) big reason why.
Against Hawaii in the second round, Stone went 6 of 8 from the field—including 4 of 5 the first half—to steady the streaky Terrapins, who couldn’t hit from the outside. As Maryland struggled from long distance, going 0 of 8 in the first half and just 1 of 18 overall, the Terps put the ball in the paint, where Stone had a decided advantage. Though the guards around him finished with better stat lines—Melo Trimble scored 24 and grabbed eight rebounds and Rasheed Sulaimon scored 14 to go with three assists—Maryland coach Mark Turgeon knows that without his big man, he might not be dancing to Louisville this week.
“He got us back in the game,” Turgeon said. “It was 13–6 [Hawaii] and all of the sudden it was 15–14 our lead. That was all Diamond.”
It has been a season of growth for Stone, a Milwaukee native who comes from a long line of athletes. His mother, Cynthia Oliver-Stone, played volleyball at Arkansas-Pine Bluff; his dad, Robert Stone, played basketball at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater (1971-74); and his older sister, Endia Oliver, played volleyball at Tennessee State. Diamond says he’s the only family member to make it this deep in a postseason. He likes that distinction, and the pressure that comes with it.
Maryland has been considered one of the most talented teams since the start of the 2015–16 season. But putting that talent together has been trying at times, for Turgeon and Stone. Asked about his maturation throughout the year, Stone recalled the Terps’ second game of the season, a narrow 75–71 win over Georgetown on Nov. 17 in which he started but played only five minutes, scoring five points and grabbing one rebound. Turgeon pulled Stone into his office after that game, and told the rookie he needed to relax. Maybe he was thinking too much about Houston—Stone acknowledged a potential Final Four trip has motivated him since off-season workouts—or maybe he just wasn’t trusting himself. Turgeon didn’t care about the reason, he just wanted Stone to hear two words: Calm. Down.
The conversation mostly worked. Stone finished the regular season as the AP Big Ten newcomer of the year, also earning All-Big Ten and All-Freshman honors. He still has some growing up to do though: Stone was suspended in mid-February for one game after he shoved Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown’s head into the ground during the Badgers’ 70–57 home win.
When he’s focused, Stone is a borderline NBA draft lottery pick. And right now, he’s one of the best big men left in the NCAA tournament, along with the likes of Gonzaga sophomore Domas Sabonis, Kansas senior Perry Ellis and North Carolina senior Brice Johnson, among others. “He’s an imposing freshman,” said Hawaii coach Eran Ganot. “[He and Trimble] are such a potent offensive combination.”
During recruiting, Stone juggled offers from almost every major program before narrowing his options to Maryland, Wisconsin, UConn, Oklahoma State and Duke. Ultimately Stone picked the Terps because of a future teammate: Trimble has a reputation as one of the best guards in college basketball, but his abilities as a recruiter might be underrated. When Stone texted Trimble to ask if the standout planned to return for his sophomore year, Trimble not only answered yes, but also encouraged Stone to join him.
“I played with a good point guard in high school,” said Stone, who won four state championships with now Dubuque point guard Austin Moutry at Dominican High School. “I knew what it would mean to play with someone who could get the ball to you.”
“Those top guys have relationships,” Turegon said. “Diamond wanted to be part of this [second round] game and he wants to be part of next weekend’s [Sweet 16] game, and he knew he had a better chance of that with Melo.”
In the Instagram photo he posted Sunday night, a smiling Stone crouches in front of a stoic Trimble, as the Terps flex or hold up the “No. 1” finger. “Sweet 16 BABYYY!” he captioned it, adding the hashtag #StillDancing.
Stone was ready to start talking about Kansas, Maryland’s next opponent, almost immediately after he finished his Instagram photo. The 115 text messages would have to wait.