The signs of a career helplessly curtailed are there on every inside screen, as Sean Mosley pushes off a tender right ankle and twists his body around another, limping all the while. They're there as he looks over a Maryland locker room — his locker room — and sees two programs mashed into one, spitting out a team not yet ready for the highs he so enjoyed two years ago.
The signs of a career immensely cherished are there within every knowing smile shared at practice with coach Mark Turgeon, who wishes nothing more than for his senior guard to be a junior guard. They'llbe there again when he gets a diploma in a few months and reads "Sean Mosley" on it, fulfilling a father's foremost wish for a son whom some thought would never last a semester in a college classroom.
These days, though, the signs that matter most to Mosley are the ones that hint at a career not yet concluded —the early arrivals to shootarounds, where he's the first to show up, and the hours of sleep forfeited to treating an ailing foot. Mosley knows his playing days in College Park are numbered, and that Sunday's regular-season finale against Virginia might be his last inside Comcast Center.
Depending on whom you listen to, Mosley could've done a lot of things: He could've become a star somewhere else, or at least the one fans saw forming early in his sophomore year. He could've transferred after the two men responsible for making him a Terp left. He could've quit on the new coach in his last and perhaps most trying season yet.
But to do so would ignore the realities of what Mosley has become: a dependable, do-it-all guard who has an unfortunate history of injuries, the admiration of his teammates and coaches, and a hunger to make something of a season that isn't much. And that'll be enough to make him smile as his name is announced as a starter Sundayand cheered for the 105th time in four years.
"For a moment there, I was upset that he was the last guy standing," Rick Mosley, Sean's father, said of the upheaval last May that ended former coach Gary Williams and assistant coach Keith Booth's reign on the Maryland sideline. "But in hindsight, when you reflect on it, change is good sometimes. Change is good sometimes, and maybe for him, change turned out to be better than we may think. It may not seem like it when you look at the total season, but there are some things that I'm real proud of. There are things that you can't see on paper or stats."
Dealing with reality
It's a rich irony, then, that it was numbers —big ones —that attracted Booth and Williams to the former St. Frances star in the first place and then engendered hopes of collegiate stardom once he committed to College Park.
In his freshman and senior seasons, Mosley helped the Panthers to a Baltimore Catholic League title. In between, he was selected to the All-Metro team four times , received more than a dozen scholarship offers and collected 2,933 points, the second most in Maryland high school history. By the time he finally was cleared to play at Maryland after a qualifying battle that dragged into the summer before his first season, the hype for the hometown hero had become obvious.
"I think I heard he'd only be here a few years, be an NBA player," Turgeon said. "I think reality sets in for kids quickly."
Talented as he was, the undersized Mosley found overwhelming opponents with his burly frame and savvy play wasn't as easy against North Carolina as it was against Calvert Hall.
There was also another problem: The guys in front of him were pretty good, too. Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes were an unflappable backcourt pairing, leaving little room for Mosley to do what he wanted.
Still, he found a way to make it work. Guarding taller, bigger and more experienced players at the small-forward position, Mosley found a spot in the lineup midway through his freshman season with defense, rebounding and more than a few floor burns. After a 26-point scoring outburst against then-No. 3 Villanova early in his sophomore year, Mosley's scoring average was up to nearly 15 points per game. His scoring touch, fans proclaimed, was back. Stardom was just around the corner.
Finding a niche
Then Christmas Day came, and with it an unwanted present from practice: an ankle injury. Mosley remained a regular starter, but something was different.
"Psychologically, it has to do something to you," Rick Mosley said. "Physically, he's going to go all out. He's going to get it taped up and he's going to run like nothing ever happened to it. But psychologically, I know it has to do something as you're going up."
The message-board banter became decidedly negative. Rick read every word of it. For every line of praise there was about Sean's nose for rebounding or immeasurable intangibles, there were 10 wondering why Williams was starting a guard who wouldn't — or couldn't — shoot the darn basketball.
"It took everything in me not to respond, and thank God I didn't," Rick Mosley said. "I just said, 'You know what, it is what it is.' Everyone's entitled to their opinion. I know what the deal is. Sean knows what the deal is. Coach knows what the deal is. Let it be."
His niche on an ACC regular-season co-champion became obvious. He never really scored a lot, sure, but why force it on a team with someone like Vasquez? He hadn't been a heralded defender when he earned his four-star billing in high school — his penchant for points did that. But after hounding the Kyle Singlers of the ACC on a regular basis, it wasn't long before "Sean the Scorer" became "Sean the Stopper".
Starting over ... again
After a disappointing, pain-filled junior campaign that ended with the team's first postseason absence in 17 years and the departure of the coach who'd shepherded it through so much, Mosley went for a ride. He turned off his phone and got out of College Park, "just to have some freedom to myself."
If he thought at all about leaving Maryland, he didn't tell his father.
"When I first asked him about it around June, right before summer school started, I said, 'Have you been given any options [about leaving]?'" Rick Mosley recalled asking.
"I probably could leave, Dad," his son told him, "but I'm not even going to think about that."
Any other school, Mosley recalled Saturday, would have meant a new start and an abrupt end. Leaving Maryland just wasn't an option.
Especially not after he met Turgeon. When his former St. Frances coach William Wells asked him what he thought of his new coach, Mosley responded plainly: "I'm in love with him."
The feeling was mutual. When needed, Mosley could offer his own version of Maryland Basketball for Dummies. The questions came everyday — What was it like under Gary? What should I expect from the media? How do I recruit Baltimore? —but Mosley was always there.
Even in spite of the occasional ankle-related flare-up or invisible offensive performance, not much has changed. Mosleyhas started all 28 games this season, posting a career-high 10.4 points per game and a 40.7 3-point shooting percentage. He's third on the team in rebounds and fourth in the ACC in free-throw shooting.
There are few limits, it seems, for the senior who wants to see his March end in the NCAA Tournament, not the ACC Tournament. After aggravating an ankle injury in a blowout loss at North Carolina on Wednesday, Mosley could've begged to be taken off the floor. But he didn't.
"He wanted to stay in and see if he could pull this thing back somehow," Rick Mosley said. "He's been steadfast about wanting to show these guys, here's the way we do it, here's how we got to the tournament [in 2010], this is how we did it."
Said center Berend Weijs: "I've never seen him let down one time."
And that might prove to be his most enduring legacy after a muddled four years in Maryland. After seeing his career so profoundly curtailed by injury and upheaval, Mosley's still playing, and playing well. After what he's been through, how could his career not end up cherished?
"'Well, that's a man. Sean Mosley's a man.' How many times did you hear that this year?" Turgeon said Saturday, referencing the plaudits heaped on his senior strongman with every win. "And he is a man."