Melo Trimble has been a centerpiece for the Maryland men’s basketball team since the smiley guard arrived in College Park before the 2014-15 campaign. The three-time All-Big Ten performer led the Terps to three straight NCAA tournaments and their first Sweet 16 berth since 2003. His driving ability, smooth shooting stroke and late-game savvy helped the program return to relevancy.
But Wednesday, the relationship between the Upper Marlboro native and his home-state school came to an end. Trimble declared for the NBA Draft and will hire an agent, making him ineligible to return to College Park.
As Trimble aims to fulfill his professional aspirations, whether in the NBA or overseas, the Terps will try to remain a NCAA tournament contender.
Here’s what could help them accomplish that feat:
RISING SOPHOMORE STANDOUTS
At Maryland media day in October, coach Mark Turgeon was confident freshmen Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson could contribute right away. They met his expectations and might have exceeded them. The trio, each playing at least 27 minutes per game, joined Trimble in the starting lineup as the Terps got off to their best start in program history.
While these first-year players will likely have to produce in expanding roles without Trimble, they’ve proven they’re capable of handling a substantial workload.
Cowan started every game at point guard this past season, providing a formidable floor general as Trimble played off the ball. In addition to averaging 10.3 points, Cowan led the team in assists and finished with fewer turnovers than his backcourt teammate. Turgeon called Cowan the fastest player in the Big Ten.
Jackson and Huerter, meanwhile, showed their rebounding and defending prowess while displaying flashes of their offensive potential.
Jackson’s scoring burst came in late January when he combined to score 50 points in a two-game stretch. Against Nebraska on Jan. 1, Huerter made seven 3-pointers in a 26-point performance. He also scored 19 points in each of Maryland’s two postseason losses.
These freshmen helped the Terps make the Big Dance this season, but they’ll likely have to lead the team there next year.
INCREASED FRONTCOURT PRODUCTION
Last season, center Diamond Stone and forward Robert Carter Jr. provided the Terps with consistent low-post scorers.
This year, the Terps struggled to score in the paint. Center Michal Cekovsky, perhaps the most reliable frontcourt scoring option, battled injuries, while forward Ivan Bender and center Damonte Dodd often scored off easy layups and putbacks. None of these players are proven rebounders, either.
Maryland will lose Dodd to graduation, but will keep Bender and Cekovsky, who should be healthy after recovering from ankle surgery that ended his season in February. Forward Joshua Tomaic, who redshirted this past season, and four-star center Bruno Fernando will also join the frontcourt rotation.
Even with limited production, the Terps tied for second in the Big Ten and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their backcourt trio, plus Jackson, provided enough of a scoring punch. They turned to Trimble late in games, and he came through with several game-winning plays.
But in the postseason, when the guards sometimes struggled to score, Maryland’s offense went stagnant. The team endured lengthy scoring droughts and couldn’t overcome them, leading to early Big Ten and NCAA tournament exits.
Those poor results will likely continue next season if the Terps’ big men fail to contribute offensively.
Maryland has relied heavily on freshmen for each of the past three seasons. In 2014, Trimble and guards Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens played crucial roles. Stone contributed last season, while the aforementioned freshman trio delivered during this past year.
Two players have committed to the Terps for 2017 — Fernando and combo guard Darryl Morsell — and each could make an immediate impact.
Fernando is the nation’s No. 78 recruit and the seventh-best center prospect for 2017 according to 247Sports. Guard Andrew Terrell referred to the IMG Academy product as a “monster.”
Meanwhile, the Terps hope Morsell can bolster the team’s young backcourt. The Baltimore native, who attends Mount Saint Joseph High School, is the third-highest ranked player in Maryland and another top-100 recruit. He’ll likely compete for playing time with Wiley, Nickens and guard Jaylen Brantley.
Turgeon will likely add a few pieces before the season opens in November. The Terps have two scholarships available due to Trimble’s departure and freshman Micah Thomas’ decision to transfer, and they’ve been active in recruiting several high-profile recruits. Perhaps the most notable prospect is five-star guard M.J. Walker, who competed in last night’s McDonald’s All-American game.
As they’ve done in the past, the Terps may also look to add another graduate transfer to soften the blow of Trimble’s absence.