The Maryland men's basketball team traveled to the Bahamas this summer to play three games during a four-day trip. The trip was dream scenario for sophomore Shaquille Cleare, a native of the Bahamas, a chance to return to his hometown and play against local teams in front of his family and friends.
However, Cleare was dealing with lingering back issues and he had to make a tough decision: play in the Bahamas or take care of his back issues and be ready to go when the team started practice in September. He chose the later, opting not to play during the trip.
"It was tough because I really wanted to play when I went back home, but I know I couldn't," Cleare said on Tuesday. "Now, because I didn't play I am able to practice and do everything I am doing right now, and I am ready to go."
Just because Cleare didn't play in the Bahamas, that doesn't mean he took the summer off. The 6-foot-9, 265-pound sophomore spent the off season getting in shape and honing his low post skills.
"I know this year I am going to have to play a lot of minutes so I am going to have to be in the best shape of my life," Cleare said. "I worked on a lot of things thins summer including: my 15-foot jump shot, my hook shot, my spins, I did a lot of rebounding drills this year, a lot of posting up on the blocks strong…just basic post work. I covered a lot of ground this summer and I am ready to show case [it] now."
Cleare knows that there are big shoes to fill this season without the number five overall draft pick, Alex Len, and he is embracing the challenge.
"A lot of people ask me the same question, I have big shoes to fill….but I am going to play my game I am not going to try to play Alex's game," Cleare said. "My game is being physical, crashing the boards, [and] defending really well, so I am going to try and run the floor play hard."
With another year under his belt, Cleare said he is developing a much better understanding of exactly how to play basketball. Cleare has only been playing since he was 15, so there are still a lot of aspects of the game he needs to learn.
"Coach Turge is actually still teaching me the game," Cleare said. "I don't know the game that well, but I know how to play the game well.
"Like for example last year I could really defend well in the post because Turgeon has been teaching me how to make my job easier in the post with my strength, how to front the post really well, how to make guys catch the ball off the block a lot," Cleare said. "I am still learning and my ears are open to anyone who actually knows the game and is willing to teach me. "
With the new NCAA rule allowing teams to begin practice 42 days before their opening game, Cleare has been able to watch extra film and he is already reaping the benefits on the court.
"I think I've progressed so much over the past couple of months because I'm in the office watching film everyday seeing what I can getting better [at]," Cleare said. "My coaches and teammates have been helping me out tremendously so I am ready."
Cleare's decision not to play this summer wasn't an easy one, but how does he feel now that he is back on the court?
"It's awesome," Cleare said "I am ready to rock."