The Maryland staff has been searching far and wide for a wing and a big man to add to its 2016 crop, and it’s possible they’ve finally uncovered an offer-worthy paint presence. Cheickna Dembele has lived his entire life in the Mali region of West Africa, but was finally able to emigrate to the United States in November. A 6-foot-9 center, Dembele first caught the eye of American scouts more than a year ago, but wasn’t able to pass through customs until just a few months ago.
Now, the budding recruit is making the most of his short time at Scotland Prep Institute (Scotland, Pa.), which is coached by Jareem Dowling, who helped bring Dembele state-side. In the last three months, Dembele’s hit the ground running, averaging 16 points, nine rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game while trying to adjust to the American lifestyle. He just recently had a chance to show off his game on a national stage, competing in the National Prep School Invitational Feb. 5-7, giving Division I coaches a first-hand look at the big man against better competition.
“Cheickna had a good weekend, not a great weekend [at the Invitational], but I probably had about 20 calls [Feb. 8] alone from high-major coaches asking about him,” Dowling said. “He’s been under the radar, mainly because we’re not really big on self-promoting our players. We grind, we work hard and eventually people that do their jobs find out about [the players]. And that’s pretty much how it’s been for [Dembele].
“We knew he was a special player, but we just let the process take care of itself. We put him in the oven every day, and eventually he came out a finished product. And when people taste the finished product, they tend to like it. We don’t have a microwave mentality here.”
As far as his recruitment is concerned, Dembele’s procured offers from St. Joseph’s, Iowa State, Southern Miss, Rhode Island, Charlotte and Providence. Pittsburg’s staff has been in to watch Demebele three times and should be anteing up shortly, while Maryland; Baylor; LSU; and Georgetown have shown interest.
Dowling said he would be “shocked” if more high-major offers didn’t come rolling in soon.
“Cheickna is a special player and will make some program really, really happy,” the coach said. “He runs like a deer, and he’s the fastest guy on our team end to end. He jumps to the moon, he can score with both hands, and he has a right and left hook. He can hit the 15-foot jumper, and he shoots better than 80 percent from the foul line, which is great for a big guy.
“So the sky is the limit for this kid, and I’m underselling him to you right now. It’s not only his talent level that’s special -- it’s his work ethic. He punches the clock every single day, on the court and in the classroom. He’s a great, great young man.”
The Terps’ staff could very well throw its name into the ring. UMD assistant Cliff Warren saw Dembele in action more than a month ago, while Dustin Clark was in attendance at the National Prep Invitational.
“Coach Warren had seen [Dembele] and definitely liked him and was intrigued by him,” Dowling said. “I didn’t speak to Dustin, but he was here too watching. Maryland is interested.”
Dowling couldn’t speak on Dembele’s interest level in any respective colleges, mainly because the 6-9 center is still getting acclimated to the States. The coach said he and his staff will help Dembele through the process, but won’t push him to one school or another. Dowling insisted he has no connections at certain programs and will guide a straight recruitment.
“I’ll tell him the pros and the cons, the good, the bad and the ugly of college basketball,” Dowling said. “We’ll give him the best information possible so he can make the best decision.”
So far, Dembele has no scheduled visits -- either official or unofficial. Dowling said his center probably wouldn’t begin embarking on officials until the end of March, giving him only a couple weekends to venture out until the signing period. Dowling hinted Dembele may only take a two or maybe three officials to the schools he’s most comfortable with before choosing one.
Basically, since Dembele isn’t privy to college basketball’s power structure, it’s going to come down to relationships and which staff shows the most love.
“Just being around Cheickna every day, seven days a week, the biggest thing for him is going to be being around good people and good coaches,” Dowling said. “He’s a great young man, and the biggest thing is just being comfortable around the people that will be coaching him at the next level.”