In the days and weeks that followed the announcement in the spring of 2015 by Maryland freshman Diamond Stone that he would play his college basketball in College Park over in-state favorite Wisconsin, there were instances of well-documented, often ugly social media backlash directed at the Milwaukee native.
On Saturday, Stone and the No. 3 Terrapins travel to Madison for what will be a homecoming and also likely a less-than-welcoming crowd at the Kohl Center.
In speaking to him, though, he won’t mention much about the possibility of hostility.
“I’m just really excited to come back home to play in front of my family and friends,” Stone said on Thursday. “I know they’re going to be excited to see me play.
“Everyone’s excited. I’m excited, so it should be a fun game.”
Despite the fact that Maryland has not played in many true road games this year, those few away from College Park have included some especially loud environments -- a Connecticut-friendly Madison Square Garden and the raucous Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill when the Terrapins faced North Carolina.
That game against Connecticut -- another school that recruited Stone extensively -- was actually one of the freshman’s best to that point in the season. Seeming to settle into his role off the bench, he had 16 points and nine rebounds in a double-digit victory.
The focus against Wisconsin is flipping that negative energy on its head.
“If the crowd is loud, that’s like the environment I like to play in,” Stone said. “I like to play in big environments. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a sold out game and I’m ready to play.”
Stone has progressed rapidly, better than he was one month ago and better than a month before that. His role off the bench has helped him to elude foul trouble, which means he is in the game for more meaningful stretches and more stretches that are meaningful.
Part of that is a credit to head coach Mark Turgeon, while another part is credit to Stone for being willing -- as a five-star player with NBA aspirations -- to be shifted to a role off the bench and take hard coaching.
“I’m probably harder on Diamond than most of the team because he has the furthest to go. He didn’t like it at first,” Turgeon said. “I think he’s getting more used to it. When you have guys with talent, you really want to push them because you know there’s more in him.”
That is what makes the timing of Saturday’s game fortuitous for Stone and Maryland.
This is the 16th game of the season for the Terrapins, long after (in terms of Stone’s progression) its early matchup against local rival Georgetown and that showdown against the Tar Heels.
Stone will be personally tested against a crowd that likely will not do him any favors. But now almost halfway through his freshman season, he acknowledges that he is in a better position to handle it.
In Chapel Hill, a similar environment greeted former Duke Blue Devil and current Terrapin Rasheed Sulaimon. But he is a senior, used to those types of atmospheres, and he not only put up 18 points in that game, but he came out of it with words that were wise beyond his years.
He related his experience at UNC to what Stone may face vs. Wisconsin.
“Don’t do anything differently than what we’ve been doing all year,” Sulaimon said. “That’s what crowds want you to do. They want to get you out of your comfort zone and they want you to make it a personal vendetta where you go 1-on-5.”
Tip-off between Maryland and Wisconsin is set for 1 p.m.