The Maryland women’s basketball team does not have a true center on its roster, but it does have a reasonable enough stand-in. The stand-in is about 6 feet 5, weighs about 200 pounds. The stand-in can dunk. The stand-in can practice. What the stand-in can’t do, however, is play, which is fine, really, because the stand-in never envisioned much of a future in college basketball anyway.
“I was actually more of a lacrosse player,” recalled Louis Blakeman, a senior at Maryland with an accounting job already lined up and four years of experience on the program’s all-male scout team. On Thursday night, in the middle of his last spring break in college, Blakeman was calling from Greenville, South Carolina, where the second-seeded Terps were preparing for their Sweet 16 matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
For as long as 20th-year coach Brenda Frese can remember, the scout team has been a staple of her program’s preparations, as regular as shootarounds. But not every scout team is created equally, and this year’s group, Frese said Thursday, is “really, really good.” Which is a really, really good thing when a rematch against third-seeded Notre Dame, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular-season champion, awaits Saturday. And an even better thing when a potential rematch against No. 1 overall seed and undefeated South Carolina, the defending national champion, looms on Monday.
“They’re usually better than the opponent that we face,” Frese said of Maryland’s scout team, which sent Blakeman and three other members to Greenville along with the team’s roster and staff members. “They’re bigger, stronger, more athletic. This is the norm in our game. It’s been here for a really long time.”
So has Blakeman. Years ago, when an older high school friend joined Indiana’s scout team, Blakeman was impressed by the perks — mostly the free Hoosiers gear. So on the first day of his freshman year in College Park, he walked over to the Xfinity Center and inquired about joining Maryland’s scout team.
Blakeman was invited to a practice and stood out. He’d never been a star at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York, averaging about eight points per game as a senior. He couldn’t shoot much then, and he can’t shoot much now. But his size was valuable.
His dedication, too. When the Terps played the 2020-21 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Blakeman had to be tested for COVID-19 six times a week, said assistant coach Kaitlynn Fratz, who oversees the group. There were only three scout team regulars that season; this year, Fratz has had her pick of about 10 players who can help when the Terps travel.
Around the program, their contributions don’t go unnoticed. After Maryland defeated visiting Arizona in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, members of the scout team hung out in the locker room with players and staffers. Frese told them how grateful she was for their behind-the-scenes work (“We appreciate how you wear Maryland on your chest as well”) and joked about coaching them as hard as she does her team.
“It’s become a culture,” Fratz said. “They really believe that they’re part of the team, because they are. It’s not just, like, ‘Come get a run in practice.’ We’ve had guys that have only missed one day [this season]. So it’s a no-brainer when it comes to March that they’re as invested as the team is.”
Blakeman’s role is, by necessity, a big one. At Thursday’s practice, he wore a red practice pinnie with the No. 33 to match Notre Dame center Lauren Ebo, who recorded a double-double in each of the Fighting Irish’s tournament wins last weekend. On Sunday, if the Terps advance to their first Elite Eight since 2015, he could go back to the No. 4 of South Carolina center Aliyah Boston, the projected No. 1 overall pick in next month’s WNBA draft and a four-time All-American.
Ahead of a potentially program-changing weekend for Maryland, Blakeman shared his perspective on the joys of an anonymous practice career. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Maryland’s faced a lot of really good bigs on its schedule this year. Take me through what’s been asked of you compared to what you were doing in earlier seasons.
I’ve always been the person to emulate the big on another team. I’ve always been a taller player. I mean, if I was playing Division I basketball, I’d be, like, the size of a guard or a small forward. But growing up, where I was from, I always was playing the “4″ or the “5.” And so it’s been helpful that my height has kind of kept up with that, because I really don’t have the skills to be a guard. I can’t shoot and dribble like a guard requires.
But I just always liked playing in the post and getting layups and rebounds and getting second-chance opportunities. That’s always been my play style. … I mean, they’re not gonna face anybody [as tall] — actually, I shouldn’t say that, because I know South Carolina has a really big center this year. But usually, the biggest person they’ll face is about 6-4, 6-5, so I’ve been able to fit that role really well.
How does your role on this team change from week to week, from game to game, from practice to practice?
I think a lot of the other scout guys would agree — I wouldn’t say there’s very much pressure on us. … I think one of the things they [the coaches] are really just focused on is running the sets. Sometimes, the sets, like for South Carolina — obviously, they’re going to run their offense through Aliyah Boston. So when we played them earlier in the season, they made the point to say, like, “Hey, their offense runs through Aliyah Boston. So really look to try and score and really look to just make offense.” And also, what they were trying to do from the defensive end, they were really trying to pack the paint to make it as difficult as possible. So when I was catching it, I was getting double, triple teams immediately.
How would you describe what it’s like to prepare to be Aliyah Boston?
I’m just a natural competitor. So every time I go out there, I always want to compete and to play my best. And I also do really try to remind myself, like, “I’m here to get them better.” So I’m going to try and do everything I can to put them in the best position to win. And so I always need to remind myself of that. … Like, if I miss a shot or I don’t make a play that I was hoping I could make, I’m kind of like, “Dang, I wish I made that play.”
But at the same time, I always remind myself, or at least try to, “I’m not here for myself. I’m here to get them better.” And so that’s always just what I try and fall back to.
So how invested do you allow yourself to get? Do you take good games or bad games by the player you were trying to emulate personally?
It’s definitely cool to see how they end up faring against the person that I was supposed to emulate. And I’ve kind of seen it go both ways, where I might have a practice where I’m trying to mimic a player, and then they end up actually doing a really good job containing that player.
Honestly, it definitely varies. I remember my freshman year, I was playing the big for N.C. State [Elissa Cunane]. I remember their offense ran through her, and I remember actually having a really good practice. And then watching the game the next night, she kind of dominated.
Sometimes that happens, but then there’s also been times where I’ve been trying to play someone, and even the coaches have been like, “They’re not gonna be able to do that.” Like, “What Lewis did — they’re not gonna be able to dunk that.”
How would you describe how meaningful this entire experience has been for you?
When I first started, it felt like I was more of an outsider than I am now. Last year, we started to travel with the team, and I think once that began, then I kind of felt like, “All right, yeah, I actually do really feel like a part of this team.” And I think right now, if you were to ask anyone, from coach Brenda Frese all the way down, I think they would say, “Yeah, scout team is part of the team.”
And so I knew, coming into my senior year, I wanted this to be one of my bigger commitments at Maryland. And so I made a point to really try and go to as many practices as I could. Throughout all four years, I was always trying to build my schedule around practice times, right? So I’m definitely invested and committed to this team. But at the same time, it’s just basketball. I know I really just want everyone on the team to give it their all, and if they give it their all, I don’t really care what the outcome is, win or lose.
But I know that, looking back on my experience at Maryland, it’s kind of unexpected, too. I didn’t make a decision to come to Maryland based off this. I didn’t think that this was going to be something that I was involved with. … I’m just going to look back on this and really just cherish the moments. And obviously, trips like this have been such an incredible experience, and stuff that I definitely hope to hold on to and hopefully remember forever.