Hakim Hart has transformed as a player just as Maryland men’s basketball has changed as a unit and the Terps have benefited greatly

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Hakim Hart has undergone a reinvention. He’s nothing like he was his freshman year. He stands taller and bulkier with plenty more games under his belt and, on occasion, newly braided twists on his head. 

His new-look resembles, somewhat, the transformation Maryland men’s basketball has undergone in the offseason. It, too, is more experienced, more mature and collectively taller. It’s a roster that has visibly improved, and Hart’s enhancements are just a small part of a significant development. 

Hart’s jumpshot was flawed at the start of his college career, and his shooting splits suffered as a result. His 14% clip from three and his 22% average from the field were a product of a jumpshot prone to inconsistency. A leaning push-shot with a low dip, complete with a hop that landed in a variety of directions.

The release was quicker and higher in his sophomore year, and Hart’s percentages improved accordingly. As did his role on the team, allowing him to showcase his ability as a guard and, occasionally, a wing averaging 25 minutes per contest. Hart offered a glimpse of his offensive prowess that season with a career-best 32-point performance that carried Maryland to a victory over Saint Peter’s. 

“30 is 30,” Eric Ayala said. “I don’t know too many people that can get 30. [Hart’s] potential is through the roof, he got taller and a lot stronger since he got here.” 

Hart averaged a modest seven points on 45% shooting as a result of his growth in his first year of considerable play, prompting optimism for his steady development. 

With Darryl Morsell transferred and Aaron Wiggins off to the NBA, the chance to thrive in the backcourt opened even more for Hart and he still sought to improve — physically and technically.

“In the offseason I just stayed focused each and every day,” Hart said.

Hart’s offseason grind molded a stringy guard with a funky shot into a sizable forward with a smooth stroke. In addition to his added weight, he grew some inches (6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8) and now stands tall enough to hang with wings in halfcourt settings. 

“[Hart] makes all the right plays, all the right decisions,” former head coach Mark Turgeon said after Hart’s first three-steal performance of the season. He’s had three more outings with three or more steals since then, including a career-high five steal night against Lehigh. “He’s really gotten better at guarding the basketball.”

The experience, coupled with the build, puts Hart in the position to take up a much bigger role on the team as a leader and a potential X-factor for a roster that could further its depth with the potential services he can provide. 

It’s already translated with his surefire impact in several games on both ends of the floor. He shot poorly to start the season, but began reaping the benefits of his offseason work as conference play neared and competition improved. 

It began with an outburst at the Bahamas. Much like his play against Saint Peter’s, Hart brought life to the offense against Richmond, hitting threes (four) and cutting to the basket while complementing his near-flawless outing (8-for-9 from the field) with four steals. His 24 points on that Thanksgiving night at the Bahamas were indicative of what was to come. 

Efficient offense coupled with impactful defense became the norm moving forward. In the six games that followed, Hart formed into the X-factor he had worked to become, averaging 13 points, shooting 64% from the field and 47% from three. He’s also taken on some of the more challenging defensive assignments, bolstering his case as a solid defender. Hart currently stands as one of two players in the Big Ten averaging two steals.

“Hakim is the ultimate glue guy for us in that starting lineup,” interim head coach Danny Manning said. “And he is playing at a high clip right now, especially when he gets opportunities and clean looks at the basket.”

With the new shooting stroke and swole frame, the expectation is that Hart’s services resemble that of a more complete two-way guard/wing. A proper guard who can shoot proficiently from all parts of the floor and play a valuable role in the starting lineup and as a leader for the second unit. An offensive catalyst for the Big Ten stretch that will be unrelenting for the months to come. 

For a team that got thrown around, was outshot and sometimes outwilled just last season, Hart’s redesign is a microcosm of what this year’s team could provide. Added size in the form of centers Julian Reese and Qudus Wahab and more scoring options with Fatts Russell and Hart and the aforementioned big men. 

Hart looks brand new and so do the Terps. They’re no longer just getting by as Hart was with his jumpshot. They have everything they need to succeed in a talented league with athletes and rosters that have fostered their own improvements.

“His potential is crazy,” Ayala said. “I don’t even think he knows how good he can be … His time will come, it’s just a matter of time.”