The departure of sophomore forward Jin Soo Choi, aka Jin Soo Kim, to return to his native Korea is the latest reminder of some of the recruiting blunders that have hobbled the Maryland basketball program in recent seasons. At the beginning of the last decade Maryland was about to move into the elite of college basketball with two appearances in the Final Four and a national title. At the start of this decade it is hard to imagine that the Terrapin basketball program is anywhere near close to returning to that level of prominence anytime soon.
A variety of factors have contributed to the decline of the program's fortunes with a revolving door of assistant coaches coupled with poor scouting and recruiting. This development with Choi may indicate that despite the recent improvements in the recruiting fortunes for the staff the program is still prone to the recent stumbles that have hurt the program badly and turned it into a perennial bubble denizen. Choi's problems were mainly academic as he spoke Korean and struggled with his English as a second language(ESL) studies. He enrolled early in 2008 even though he was originally in the 2009 class and nearly lost most of his freshman season to an academic suspension that was overturned on appeal. It begs the question that if Choi's English skills were so weak that he was unable to handle ESL classes and had trouble communicating on the court with teammates and coaches why did the staff think he would be able take college courses successfully?
A 3-point specialist who was described by Gary Williams himself as the best outside shooter on the team Choi was hardly ever used in a roll to make use of that specialist skill. He may have shot near 25% for his career but he hardly had two dozen career attempts in mostly garbage time so it is worthless to extrapolate that he would never have been a decent 3-point threat. I'm not sure why a coach like Williams who has historically disdained the 3-point shot would recruit a player who was mostly valuable for his outside shooting. It wasn't as if Maryland couldn't use some help from the perimeter. Maryland has ranked 309th, 269th, 319th, 307th, 327th, 302nd and 306th in the nation since 2004 relative to the percentage of their points that come from the 3-point line. In the ACC during that time the Terrapins have ranked 9th, 8th, 11th, 10th, 12th, 11th and 9th with the last three on the list having them in the basement of the league. Since 2000-2001 when Maryland has shot poorly from outside (a mean of 181st in the nation) they have finished with an average of 7.6 league wins for 8th place and when they have shot well (37th in the nation) they finished with an average of 11.8 league wins and 2nd place. Still, Williams never really bothered to use Choi as a specialty substitute and now he departs College Park like so many other recent players without any meaningful contribution.
That doesn't make Choi exceptional. Since 2006 Maryland has seen Jerome Burney, Shane Walker, Braxton Dupree and Gus Gilchrist have little or no effect on the fortunes of the program. That doesn't even factor in role players like Dino Gregory and Steve Goins who probably have little chance to make a contribution that will be worth remembering. Some of those situations may not be all the coaching staff's fault but many of them do fall on their shoulders. I don't really blame Chuck Driesell, Keith Booth and Rob Eshan for some of those flops because they are learning how to be college level assistants on the fly. Given that fact they could have done a lot worse. Driesell and Eshan both show promise as recruiters and Booth helped land Sean Mosley who is the best young talent on the team.
Even though the future isn't all bleak the ill fated Jin Soo Choi experiment will have to go down with a host of other recent recruiting debacles that continue to haunt Maryland. It is up to head coach Gary Williams, who I have defended in the past, to commit to changing the program's fortune by bringing in the kind of players that are likely to be the kind of elite performers that Choi was unlikely to ever become.