Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon approaches every season the same.
“This time of year is great for coaches,” Turgeon said at Maryland media day Oct. 25. “Everybody thinks they’re starting, no games, not a lot of media. Just practicing hard every day.”
But the Terps’ performances the past two seasons haven’t aligned with the outside expectations. Turgeon saw five players transfer away from the program before the 2014-15 campaign, yet Maryland reached the third round of the NCAA tournament after setting a program record with 26 regular season wins.
A year later, Turgeon assembled the pieces that warranted the country’s No. 3 preseason ranking. The Terps dropped nine games. Their national title aspirations ended in the Sweet 16.
Entering this season, the No. 25 Terps’ expectations are in between what they were the past two seasons. With several newcomers, Turgeon admits the Terps will be a “work in progress.” Still, he said he believes with guard Melo Trimble leading the team, they have the pieces to make a third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
“We’ve improved so much the last three weeks,” Turgeon said Oct. 25. “It’s been great to see. It should be a pretty good team if we can stay healthy, come January, February. Good group.”
Turgeon knew he had an uphill battle to keep the Terps nationally relevant after last season, starting with the losses of guard Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Jake Layman to graduation. Then forward Robert Carter Jr. declared for the NBA Draft on April 7. A few days later, Trimble and center Diamond Stone did the same. The Terps were in danger of losing their entire starting lineup.
Even if Trimble kept his name in the draft, Maryland had backcourt options, such as guards Jaylen Brantley and Jared Nickens. Guard Dion Wiley returned after missing last season with a torn meniscus, and Terps received pledges early in the recruiting process from four-star guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, both of whom Turgeon expects to contribute beginning in the season-opener against American on Friday.
Turgeon worried about the team’s frontcourt, which included defensive stopper Damonte Dodd and forwards Ivan Bender and Michal Cekovsky. Neither international player showed offensive consistency, so he added L.G. Gill in early May. The 6-foot-8 graduate transfer was a proven scorer in his three seasons at Duquesne, and it appears he’ll earn plenty of playing time, especially while Bender recovers from a fractured left wrist.
“What makes us so good is that we have depth at every position,” Cowan said. “Especially in the freshman class.”
A few weeks after Gill’s commitment, the Terps received a commitment from Justin Jackson, another versatile forward and the third freshman Turgeon said is “further along” than the other first-year players. Turgeon said his 6-foot-7 frame allows Jackson to play down low, while his dribbling skills, which are still improving, will make him a viable option in the frontcourt.
Jackson and Cowan each scored 15 points in the Terps’ 95-61 exhibition win over Catawba on Saturday, while Huerter added eight points and six assists.
“We play with a great group of guys and have camaraderie on and off the court,” Jackson said. “Off the court, if we come together well, when we get on the court it’s going to gel.”
But as the Terps begin their third season in the Big Ten, they’ll reflect on the day before Jackson committed as the biggest offseason development. On May 25, the last day to withdraw from the NBA Draft, Trimble announced he was returning to Maryland for his junior season.
Turgeon admits Trimble was more reserved last season, not wanting to “step on anyone’s toes” with a veteran-laden starting lineup.
Now, he’s the player tasked with creating chemistry with his young teammates.
“He’s at a high, high level right now, and better than I’ve ever seen him,” Turgeon said. “He knows this is his team.”