By Jeff Barker and Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
10:39 PM EDT, May 10, 2011
In the summer of 1983, an undersized, unrecruited point guard arrived unannounced in new coach Larry Brown's office at Kansas.
After talking with him for a few moments, Brown gave Mark Turgeon a spot on the team. "I beat [Division II] Washburn for him," Brown joked. "He had gone to the basketball camp at Kansas for years and he said, 'Coach, I'm as good or better than any of the guards you have.' He was about 5-7 and about 140 pounds. He probably grew to 5-9 and 160. He ended up starting for me as a freshman when another freshman became ineligible and we wound up winning the Big 8."
Twenty-eight years later, Turgeon, 46, — who will be formally introduced as Maryland's men's basketball coach at noon Wednesday at Comcast Center — still possesses a feistiness often associated with smaller players in a big man's game.
In his zeal and methodical preparation for basketball, the two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year from Texas A&M coach seems vaguely old school — much like Gary Williams, the former Maryland point guard he will replace.
Even his career path seems old school. He rose slowly, carefully, working as an assistant under Brown and under Roy Williams — a student serving under Jedi masters. In a half-dozen career stops, he became steeped in basketball, absorbing the game.
"He's kind of like those older coaches that moved around a lot until they found their spot," said Joe Davidson, who gave Turgeon his first head coaching job at Jacksonville State in Alabama in 1998.
"I worked with Gene Bartow [at UAB] and he said, 'moving is good, it's healthy for you.' He's just a good guy. He's a basketball coach, he's nothing else," Davidson said.
It is revealing that on Monday night — within hours of emotionally telling the Texas A&M media of his "tough" decision to move on after four years — Turgeon was on the phone with Amateur Athletic Union coaches and others in the important Baltimore-Washington recruiting corridor.
"Yeah, I talked to him," said Keith Stevens of Team Takeover in Washington, one of the top AAU teams in the nation. "I think it shows his commitment level, not only to myself, but to the other AAU and high school coaches in the community. He wants to be involved. He wants us to play a part in the growth of the program."
In trying periods — such as the 2008-09 regular season — Gary Williams faced media and fan criticism that he didn't reach out to prospects and coaches on the AAU circuit early or often enough . The criticism seemed to bother Williams, who said he worked hard at recruiting, ran a clean program and produced a national championship and enough wins to surpass the late UCLA icon John Wooden.
Turgeon, who arrived on Maryland's campus and met with the team Tuesday as Williams packed up his former office in Comcast Center, seemed to immediately emphasize recruiting local talent.
"I know [Texas A&M] signed [Baltimore native and former DeMatha guard] Naji Hibbert from the area. So he has recruited this area before," said Damon Handon of D.C. Assault. "From all indications, he's going to recruit this area hard and try to keep some of the talent in the area. If you look at the [NBA] playoffs this year, Delonte West, Jeff Green, Sam Young, Kevin Durant. All those guys are from Prince George's County, where [Maryland] is located. That's just those guys. There are probably seven or eight more in the NBA right now that are from P.G. County."
Turgeon has already indicated he will change the makeup of his staff as he moves to Maryland. "One of the hardest things I had to do is change my staff. I'm leaving a few coaches behind," he told ESPN radio after arriving Monday. "I think I need to get an East Coast staff — people who know the area."
That could prove fortunate to at least one or two members of Gary Williams' former staff that included Robert Ehsan, Keith Booth and Bino Ranson.
Ranson began an AAU team in Baltimore years ago. His knowledge of the AAU culture and the relationships he formed with fellow coaches made him attractive to Maryland when he was hired last year.
"I have not heard anything about being retained," Ranson texted in response to a query at about 5 p.m. Tuesday. He was not available for comment after that.
Turgeon, who is married with three children, had turned down overtures from Oregon a year ago. Brown told Turgeon that his next career stop should be a place where he could win a national championship.
Now, Turgeon will follow a coach who won a national championship in 2002 and for whom the Comcast Center court is almost certain to be named.
"I love Gary," Brown said of Williams. "Following Gary is not easy, but the kids are going to see a lot of the same things that Gary demanded and Gary expected. I know once they get to meet [Turgeon] and see what he's about, how he respects the game and respects kids, they're going to be jumping for joy."
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said in an interview that Turgeon had been suggested as a candidate by Williams. Other candidates included Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and Arizona coach Sean Miller.
Anderson first reached out to Turgeon late last week, then interviewed him in Pittsburgh. Turgeon flew back to Texas to talk to his team and family before Maryland confirmed the hire Monday night.
Williams declined comment when asked Tuesday in a text message about recommending Turgeon. Williams has said he will be reluctant to appear often at Comcast Center for fear of stealing attention from the new coach.
"Mark is very well thought of by his peers," Williams said in a statement released by Maryland upon request. "He plays an aggressive style that I'm sure will appeal to Maryland fans. Maryland basketball is in good hands with Mark as the head coach."
Texas A&M was 24-9 last season and ranked 19th in the nation in fewest average points allowed.
"He's been well trained. He gets it," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. "He's been very successful in a very difficult league and at a place that's not easy to recruit to and win at. He's a tough dude. His teams play hard and they're disciplined. He's a no-nonsense basketball coach. He would not back off of anybody in that [Atlantic Coast Conference]."
Said Brown: "His values are pretty simple. You play hard and you guard and you rebound like crazy and take good shots. If you go in there and you don't play hard, he's not going to beg you. You won't play. I'm pretty sure his values haven't changed."
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Bracken contributed to this article.
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