The University of Maryland hasn't produced an ACC Freshman of the Year winner since 1994, when Terps big man Joe Smith took home the trophy. Smith would go on to win the National Player of the Year award the next season.
Now, after waiting 19 seasons, Maryland finally has the opportunity to add another ACC Freshman of the Year winner to its accomplishments with the addition of 4-star center Shaquille Cleare.
Cleare, originally from the Bahamas, has lived in the Houston area for four years. He checks in at a massive 6'9'', 270 pounds. The Village School alum was ranked 30th in his class by ESPN.
Cleare was considered by many to be snubbed by the McDonald's All-American Game roster selections. Despite not being picked to play in the prestigious All-Star event, Cleare was ranked higher than three McDonald's All-Americans in ESPN's rankings.
The promising center is Maryland's most-prized commitment since Mike Jones in 2003, meaning Cleare was praised higher than future NBA picks James Gist, Greivis Vasquez and Jordan Williams.
In his player profile video on the new Maryland basketball website, Cleare said this about his decision to come to Maryland:
"After moving from the Bahamas to Houston, Coach [Mark] Turgeon had been recruiting me for, like, four years while I was down there. He wanted me to come to [Texas] A&M, but Maryland was my first option. But, after Coach [Gary] Williams retired, Turgeon took the job from A&M and came to Maryland, so I just killed two birds with one stone right there, and decided to commit to Maryland."
With so much hype building around a player, it's often difficult for that individual to manage expectations. Cleare certainly has the body, talent and attitude to compete for the ACC Freshman of the Year Award, but needs to accomplish a few things as the season progresses.
Here are some of the ways Shaquille Cleare can grab that coveted award.
Play his way into the starting lineup
Mark Turgeon hasn't hinted at any possible starting lineup. That being said, it would be wise to assume that James Padgett, the only non-transfer senior on the roster, will begin the season as a starter. Whether it be for leadership purposes, ACC experience or offensive rebounding prowess, Padgett should take up a starting position.
Also, it would be very surprising if the potential-laden center Alex Len didn't receive the starting nod to begin the season. Len stands at 7'1'', and has tons of promise. Turgeon will most likely start him and give him the opportunity to show how far he has developed over the offseason.
Put two and two together, and Cleare doesn't have a starting position—yet.
After a month or so, Cleare definitely can overtake James Padgett's spot in the starting lineup, and he needs to if he wants to compete for the ACC freshman of the year award.
To state it plainly, no bench player is going to take home an honor like that one. Cleare needs to produce right away, and play his way into the starting lineup if he wants any shot at claiming this award.
Lose a little more excess weight
To be completely fair, Shaquille Cleare has never struggled with same weight issues that Joshua Smith or Renardo Sidney dealt with in college. Still, Cleare measures a bit on the heavy side.
Throughout high school, the mountainous Bahamian has struggled with his conditioning and his ability to run up and down the court. When you can't move down the court, you often get benched, which wouldn't bode well for Cleare's ACC freshman of the year chances.
Cleare needs to stay on the court as much as possible, even if it does mean cutting out some his massive 270-pound frame.
Apparently, Cleare is already working on fixing this problem. Recently, fellow Maryland freshman Seth Allen posted this picture of the basketball team in the weight room on his Twitter via Instagram. Shaq looks absolutely built, and it is evident that he has already began to work on his strength and conditioning.
In addition, Maryland brought in Navy SEALs to train the basketball players last month. This video highlights the intensive workouts the players went through, meaning that Cleare's fitness is certainly improving.
These two examples are terrific, but Cleare needs to continue losing his excess body fat in order to stay on the court more often and compete for the ACC freshman of the year honors.
Improve his interior finesse game
Shaquille Cleare is a bruiser. He muscles his way to fight for rebounds, turns offensive boards into putback slams, and blocks shots ferociously.
All of those characteristics are wonderful, except they won't help his scoring average too much. If his points per game total maintains a single-digit value, Cleare's hopes of being named the ACC's top freshman will be shot.
Cleare seriously needs to work on his low-post finesse game in order to have an alternate way of scoring the ball other than points off rebounds. Powering through defenders won't work as well as it did in high school, so Cleare needs to develop some effective post moves.
Luckily, Cleare is playing right next to James Padgett, who has gradually improved his post game throughout his three-year career in College Park. Now, no one in the ACC uses his pivot more effectively than Padgett.
If Cleare can take note of what Padgett has transformed his post-game into, and become a consistent double-digit scorer, the big-bodied center will have a great chance to be chosen as the ACC's most outstanding freshman.
Cleare has work to do, but that work is manageable. If he can enhance all three of these parts of his game, he will give himself the opportunity to knock of the likes of Rodney Purvis, Marcus Paige and Rasheed Sulaimon, and take home the 2012-13 ACC freshman of the year award.