For the last two weeks or so in practice, Mark Turgeon has seen it. He’s seen Chol Marial look something like the player he was in high school, before injuries downgraded him from a potential NBA lottery pick to a three-star prospect. He’s seen Marial improve defensively, using his 7-foot-2 frame to send shots back where they came from.
More recently, Turgeon has also seen a new energy about his squad, with a six-day break for the holidays rejuvenating players despite back-to-back defeats. Players say they’re hungry, suddenly seeing a path to additional playing time — be it Marial, cleared for contact after undergoing surgery in September, or end-of-bench options such as forward Joshua Tomaic.
So even as Maryland men’s basketball loses two key frontcourt depth pieces in freshmen Makhel and Makhi Mitchell — who entered the transfer portal, ending their Terps careers after just 12 games — Turgeon isn’t worried about the holes that seem to have sprung in the hull of the No. 13 team in the country.
It’s the players available to him he’s paying attention to. And as some pieces leave, Turgeon’s sights are set on how to implement those ready and waiting to replace them, beginning with Sunday’s contest against Bryant.
“Kids are more resilient than we are, so they move on. There’s some guys in that locker room real excited that they’re going to get a chance to play,” Turgeon said. “There’s maybe a new energy about us because this is it, this is what we’ve got, just got to move forward.”
With the Mitchell twins, two former four-star recruits from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., the Terps’ frontcourt depth appeared far stronger than a season ago. With those two, Turgeon could mix up his starting lineups more easily based on matchups, and forward Jalen Smith could play as a four more frequently.
Without the Mitchell twins, there’s an extra onus placed on Smith to live up to his preseason All-Big Ten selection. There’s also Marial, Tomaic and Ricky Lindo, options that have featured sparingly — if at all — through the first 12 games of the season.
Those players have an opportunity now, however, and Turgeon said they’ll play Sunday in Maryland’s final nonconference matchup before Big Ten play begins in earnest.
“Feel like in our locker room, we’ve got a lot of hungry guys, guys that’s kind of tough-minded,” guard Darryl Morsell said. “We’re hungry to get better. We know we’ve been struggling recently, but we’re just trying to build.”
Part of that building will involve learning new lineups and how to play without as many big men. Since the Mitchells left, the Terps have five players standing at 6-foot-8 or above — Marial, Smith, Tomaic, Lindo and walk-on Will Clark.
With a smaller lineup, Morsell said he and his teammates need to be scrappier, fighting for boards and loose balls.
“And you know what helps?” Turgeon said. “You make a few shots. That helps a lot.”
After a 10-0 start, Maryland stumbled against Penn State and Seton Hall while shooting 33 and 27 percent, respectively. Turnovers hadn’t been much of an issue in the undefeated run leading up to those matchups, but the Terps managed at least 17 in both of the losses.
Turgeon doesn’t expect perfection Sunday against the Bulldogs — not with just two games in 18 days and recent roster turnover. But he does expect a renewed vigor from his unit, with players receiving opportunities on the floor they haven’t had previously. He expects Marial — who Turgeon said is still only at about 70 percent of his former self — and others to take advantage of their chance.
Because despite losing two key frontcourt depth pieces in the Mitchell twins, there are still 14 other players in the locker room. It’s that collective Turgeon is focused on.
“It’s sad, but at the same time we’ve got to continue to keep growing,” guard Eric Ayala said. “It’s about Maryland. It’s not about any individual.”