When the lights were at their brightest, Marcus Dockery was just a spectator.
He watched on as his Maryland men’s basketball teammates battled with Mount St. Mary’s, surviving an early scare to cruise to an 18-point victory on Nov. 29. But Dockery wasn’t involved, failing to record a single minute of game action.
So, he returned to the court after the game. He dribbled two balls back and forth, the rhythm swirling along the Xfinity Center walls. Then, he got some shots up. Dockery cycled through a variety of moves in the process — double crossovers, between-the-legs and behind-the-back combos, stepbacks. But each attempt would end the same: with a delicate jumper, grazing the nylon time and time again.
Dockery’s poise was on full display that day, taking shot after shot long after the final buzzer had sounded. It’s an attribute that runs through players like Aquan Smart and James Graham, too — freshmen who have emerged as valuable options off the bench in recent games. And although minutes are limited for the three youngsters, their levelheaded approach has been a welcome sight for a Terps’ side still trying to find consistency.
“Really just their ability to listen, take in information that us older guys give them,” forward Galin Smith said. “We’re trying to lead them the best that they can. There’s a lot of information coming at them at one time.”
For Maryland’s youngest newcomers, playing time has been infrequent: a few minutes here or there toward the end of a blowout, and a more extended stay on the bench in closer games. The freshman trio has combined for just 157 minutes over 21 total appearances, for an average of just about 7.5 minutes per appearance.
It’s not a phenomenon that is particularly unexpected, especially given the breakdown of the roster. Earlier in the season, Turgeon mentioned he believes the Terps have seven starting-caliber players. Much of that depth comes from the backcourt, a place where Dockery, Smart and Graham have all featured so far.
Still, the young players have kept their heads down. For Dockery, a Washington, D.C., native, the prospect of playing for Maryland was an exciting one. Still, under the tutelage of veterans such as Darryl Morsell, Dockery has taken on a more pragmatic approach to his hooping education.
“Just be myself, [don’t] worry about everything that’s being thrown at me so fast. Play my game,” Dockery said earlier in the season. “Darryl’s been a big inspiration to me and played a big role in me transitioning smoothly to Maryland.”
Smart’s improvement has been a little steadier. The Evanston, Illinois, native has received a handful more games than Dockery and Graham. Those early-season jitters were evident, though: in his five opening games, the guard racked up seven turnovers and only four assists.
However, Smart has progressed in recent weeks, and with the Terps in need of a heady presence against No. 12 Illinois amid Eric Ayala’s absence, Smart helped carry the burden in short spurts. Smart knifed his way through the lane midway through the first half, hitting a layup through contact. And despite Smart’s just seven minutes of game time, Turgeon was quick to acknowledge his contributions.
“I thought Aquan had good minutes, he competed … Dockery felt comfortable out there,” Turgeon said. “It was a good night, you got to see a lot of guys, I think they had fun.”
Graham is on the other end of the spectrum. Having just arrived from Nicolet High School in Milwaukee, the freshman isn’t expected to be a key contributor to Turgeon’s squad until next season. At just 17, Graham is still getting adjusted to the conditioning, strength and speed of high-level college basketball.
Yet, fueled by the progression of young players like Smart and Dockery and leaning on the advice of veterans like Smith and Morsell, it seems Graham is poised to adopt Maryland’s key tenet of composure.
“I know how hard it can be, coming in and having to learn all the new terminology and information that coach is throwing at you,” Smith said. “[I tell them to] try to just keep a level head … Just keeping your head straight and staying composed is the biggest thing.”