Diamond Stone didn’t know what to expect when he traveled to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., last month to begin his post-Maryland life.
The setting on the 500-acre campus might be “lovely,” as Stone called it, yet it is far from paradise when you get past the palm trees.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun – his first since announcing plans to turn pro following his freshman year – Stone admitted it took him a little while to get used to the basketball boot camp mentality as he prepared for his next stop, the NBA.
“At first I tried to go with the flow, but it didn’t work out,” said Stone, who was sent to the IMG Academy by his management team at Tandem Sports & Entertainment. “I kind of broke down and hit the wall. I wasn’t used to working out this much. My body adapted. I’m doing fine now.”
Stone acknowledges he didn’t work as hard as he thought during the eight months he spent in College Park. The isolated location of the IMG Academy has helped him focus.
“At Maryland there was a lot of distractions [with normal college life] and I probably wasn’t as consistent [in his workouts] as I should have been,” he said. “Right now I’m in a great environment, a smaller city, it’s not like Miami or anything like that. I have a lot of time to focus and just worry about myself.”
Stone said the training concepts at IMG are similar to what he did with Kyle Tarp, Maryland’s director of basketball performance, but the small group he works with every day — often for six or seven hours a day — gives him more repetitions. Instead of a trainer instructing 15 players at once, it’s one-on-one, and with little time off between sets.
“Here it’s rapid; it’s crazy here,” Stone said. “They try to break you down here.”
The plan is for Stone to be in optimum shape once he begins private workouts with NBA teams. Like most players expected to be drafted in the first round, Stone will attend the NBA combine starting Wednesday in Chicago only to be officially measured and start the interview process with teams interested in selecting the 6-foot-11, 260-pound teenager in the draft.
“We’re going to see how the lottery balls shake out before we start scheduling workouts,” said Tandem president Jim Tanner, who is overseeing Stone’s transition to the NBA.
Stone will briefly unite in Chicago with three of his former teammates – point guard Melo Trimble and forwards Robert Carter Jr. and Jake Layman – who are all projected as second-round picks. Unlike Stone and Carter, Trimble has yet to sign with an agent and can take his name out of the June 23 draft by May 25 in order to return to the Terps.
Though he and Carter occasionally discussed their future when they roomed together on the road, Stone said that he didn’t make his decision about turning pro until after the season ended.
Stone said he met with his parents as well as with Maryland coach Mark Turgeon a few days after the season-ending Sweet 16 loss to Kansas, a game in which Stone scored just five points and had four rebounds in 21 foul-plagued minutes. In his one season in college, Stone averaged 12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and a team-best 1.6 blocks a game.
“My parents we talked it over, we thought it was the right decision,” Stone said. “Coach Turgeon, of course he wanted me to come back, but he said, ‘Chase your dream. I’m not going to hold you back. If this is what you want to do, I’m all for it.’”
For the next few weeks, Stone is trying to get his body – and his game – ready for the NBA.
While his weight has remained about the same as it was for most of his time at Maryland, the IMG trainers have been working on Stone trimming his body fat, improving his “fast-twitch” explosiveness and working on his perimeter game so he can also play more facing the basket in the pros.
“If you saw me, I look like I’m about 240 [pounds],” Stone said. “I look way different than I did at Maryland. I just want to be stronger, faster… I’m moving more laterally. We do more power forward kind of work, I played more the 5 [center] at Maryland. At the next level I’m probably going to play more 4 [power forward] working on my jump shot and my NBA 3. Different counter moves going to the basket…It’s a work in progress.”
Most NBA scouts and general managers believe that as much as Stone showed on the offensive end at Maryland, there are still questions about his defense and attitude. Stone said that he credits Turgeon for staying on him about his defense, which improved during the season.
Though he was a good 3-point shooter at Dominican High – he made four 3-pointers in a playoff game en route to a fourth straight state title – Stone never attempted a single 3-pointer while shooting a team-best 56.8 percent from the field as a freshman at Maryland.
“That’s what I want to keep hush, I don’t want anyone to know until it’s game time,” Stone said of his 3-point shooting. “I want the defender to sag off me as far as possible. It’ll be a surprise to them.”
It’s going to be hard to keep it a secret after what Stone has shown during his workouts at the IMG Academy.
According to Dan Barto, the lead skills trainer at the IMG Academy, Stone hit eight straight NBA 3-pointers in a drill that involves backpedaling from midcourt to different spots around the perimeter and then shooting.
“I hadn’t seen a center prospect do a moving 3-point shooting drill to that level in all my time,” Barto said, adding that he has trained more than 100 players who have been drafted over the past 14 years.
Barto said Stone’s work ethic and attitude have been equally impressive given the regimen.
“It breaks a lot of people,” Barto said. “They make excuses. This kid has not complained once.”
Barto believes Stone has set himself up well to have a smooth transition to the NBA and compares Stone’s game to that of 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic, who as a 20-year-old was drafted No. 16 by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011 and traded the follow year to the Orlando Magic. Vucevic has been the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons and its leading rebounder in each of his four seasons there.
Keeping in touch
There’s a part of college life Stone misses.
“Just hanging out with my teammates every day,” he said. “When I left, being in the group chats, I kind of miss my teammates.”
Stone has followed the publicity surrounding the “Running Man Challenge” videos posted on Twitter by former teammates Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley. The spots got so popular that the two Terps appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last week.
Asked why he hasn’t been in any of the videos, Stone chuckled.
“I’m not the dancer,” he said. “I’m kind of behind the scenes, I don’t like being recorded dancing.”
The low-profile is going to change soon. Stone is one of 17 players invited to the May 17 draft lottery in New York. Though most mock drafts project him to be picked between the the high teens and low 20s, Barto expects Stone’s stock to rise once he begins private workouts with pitting him head-to-head against other center prospects.
“What I see with my eyes right now is physically so much different than what you saw this season and what you see on film,” Barto said. “If [Domantas] Sabonis and [Henry] Ellenson and [Jakob] Poeltl are not working twice as hard as he is, they’re going to really struggle to match up with him.”
For his part, Stone might just be a little too busy to pay attention to any of it.
“I just want to get drafted, to be honest with you,” he said. “Any team that drafts me, I’ll just be thankful. I’m not picky at all. It’s just a blessing to be in the situation I am.”