The Wisconsin faithful braced for Diamond Stone's seemingly inevitable commitment to the Badgers. The highly recruited big man led Milwaukee's Dominican High School to four state championships on the Kohl Center floor, and most felt there was little reason for him to leave a state where he was beloved.
Everything changed when Stone chose Maryland. Badger fans tormented him on social media, with former coach Bo Ryan's daughter even tweeting a subtle jab at him.
Stone feels no regrets about his decision, though, as he prepares to visit Madison with the third-ranked Terrapins on Saturday, choosing instead to ignore the distractions and focus on leading a team dealing with a hobbled Melo Trimble.
"Milwaukee always is going to be home, but Maryland is my new home," Stone said. "If the crowd is loud, then that's the environment I like to play in. I Iike to play in big environments. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a sold-out game, and I'm ready to play."
Coach Mark Turgeon hasn't coddled the potential one-and-done. Stone averaged 9.0 points while starting six of his first seven games, but Turgeon made him the sixth man after Maryland (14-1, 3-0 Big Ten) lost at then-No. 9 North Carolina on Dec. 1.
Stone has averaged 16.9 points while shooting 61 percent during the Terps' eight-game winning streak, including a 39-point effort against Penn State on Dec. 30.
He started Wednesday's 88-63 win over Rutgers and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but Turgeon called that a "mistake that better not happen again" after Stone's name inadvertently was written in the scorebook on one of the top five lines.
Turgeon wants Stone to come off the bench against the Badgers (9-7, 1-2), but Trimble's availability could change that. Trimble scored all four of his points at the free-throw line and sat out the second half against Rutgers with hamstring tightness.
The sophomore point guard has been limited in practice since, and Turgeon is taking a cautious approach.
"Hopefully he'll be better on Saturday," Turgeon said. "It's something we need to be concerned about, something we need to watch, but I think with proper care and stretching and doing everything right, he should be fine."
Trimble scored 16 points as Maryland beat eventual national runner-up Wisconsin 59-53 in the only meeting last season, but the Terps will be facing a shell of that Badgers team in this matchup.
Wisconsin's four home losses equal the amount from the previous two seasons combined, and it is 2-2 under interim coach Greg Gard since Ryan retired abruptly following a win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 15.
The Badgers are off to their worst start in Big Ten play since dropping three of their first four in 2011-12 following a 59-58 loss at Indiana on Tuesday. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes finished with 15 points apiece as they shot just 41.3 percent.
Wisconsin also committed 14 turnovers, bringing its average to 11.6 per game. It hasn't averaged that many since turning it over 12.2 times per game in 2007-08.
"The loss (Tuesday) stings, and it will," Gard said. "But to be able to bring a younger team on the road in this environment and have a chance to win in the final 50 seconds is a step in the right direction."
Maryland hasn't played at the Kohl Center as a member of the Big Ten and is making its first trip there since losing 69-64 on Nov. 30, 2004.