When Maryland men’s basketball coach Kevin Willard signed on to replace the outgoing Mark Turgeon, he faced a problem.
The departures of experienced guard Eric Ayala and last season’s leading scorer Fatts Russell left gaping holes in the Terps’ roster that wouldn’t be easily filled. Willard also faced the risk that some players could buy out with the coaching change and enter the transfer portal.
Fortunately for Willard, no major pieces did. Donta Scott and Hakim Hart were major contributors last year and could’ve searched for greener pastures, but they chose to stay and give Willard a chance.
“What I really respected about guys, Donta [Scott] and Hakim Hart, guys that stayed, they had a real love for the University of Maryland,” Willard said. “They really wanted to end their career better than the way last year ended.”
Scott said he felt no need to leave the “family-based atmosphere” he saw with the Terps, one he felt was untainted by Turgeon’s departure.
Willard had his base, and he could now build on that.
“We made sure that the guys we had returning, that stayed, that we complemented them, we didn’t come and bring someone in their position,” Willard said. “It was very important to me that balance, to get off to a really good start with the former players.”
The former Seton Hall coach used the transfer portal to pick up valuable pieces in Jahmir Young, Donald Carey and Jahari Long.
Young averaged nearly 20 points per game at Charlotte and will likely replace Russell at point guard. A former DeMatha player, Young was the first transfer to join Willard’s squad just more than a month after he was announced as head coach.
“I had a connection with [Willard] and his staff,” Young said. “I love the team. I’m also very close to my family, so being able to play in front of my family is very special to me.”
Young and Carey averaged double-digit points at Charlotte and Georgetown, respectively, and Willard will hope the additions can replace the scoring left by the departures of Ayala and Russell.
At the same time, Willard made sure players such as Scott, Hart and Julian Reese could have roles in the new-look squad. The quick roster transition could allow the Terps to quickly rebuild after a tumultuous 2021-2022 season.
“It does make it easier when you have the transfer portal because you really have a way of starting your culture, starting your season with guys that you can come in and kind of bridge your roster much quicker than you have in the past,” Willard said.
That quick transition could turn the Terps’ scoring weakness into a strength, and Willard expects his team to be dynamic on offense.
“One through five is going to be able to shoot the basketball at some point on the court,” Willard said. “We have the ability to play a little bit more up tempo than I have in the past.”
Willard also said most of the Terps’ roster is unselfish with the ball, something that could add to Maryland’s offensive effectiveness.
However, last year’s squad allowed the third worst points per game total in the Big Ten, and Willard says that problem hasn’t changed.
“Our defense will be a little bit of a work in progress early in the season,” Willard said.
But with the transfer portal additions, along with the potential development of the players who stayed with the Terps, Maryland has the tools to inspire optimism in Willard’s inaugural season.