The season has yet to begin, and Maryland has participated in only a couple preseason scrimmages, but John Tillman is cautiously optimistic about what he has seen thus far.
At the same time, the Terps coach is realistic enough to know that the current group of players is far from looking like a finished product and will make its fair share of mistakes in Saturday's season opener against Mount St. Mary's at noon at Byrd Stadium.
“I think in the last two weeks, we’ve gotten better, we’ve learned a lot more about ourselves,” he said Tuesday morning. “We certainly have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but we feel like we are moving in the right direction. We do feel like this is a team that we’re not going to be a team that is tailor-made from Day One. We get that. We’re going to be a team that hopefully can continue to get better and better as the season goes along.”
With 27 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Maryland will field a decided youthful look on the field. But Tillman used the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks as an example of a team that succeeded despite the absence of a bona fide superstar.
And while conceding that he has no preconceived notions that the players will be flawless in executing plays against the Mountaineers, Tillman said there is a certain standard that he and the coaches expect from every player regardless of their age and experience level.
“We haven’t asked anybody to win or lose the game, but when they step on the field, we expect them to play like Terps,” he said. “What does that mean? Things that we emphasize and kind of hold dear for a long time. Just playing very hard, playing with a lot of passion, having a great understanding of all the schemes that we’re utilizing whether it’s offense, defense, riding or clearing, being unselfish and fundamentally sound and being good communicators and having each other’s backs. I think those are the things that if we put a guy on the field, we expect him to do that knowing that we haven’t had the luxury of having one guy that we can rely on in the past. Each year, there’s going to be some attrition, and there’s going to be some parts that leave. If we focus on how we play together and everybody stays committed to the big-picture stuff, if guys can fulfill their roles, we should be OK.”
Tillman said winning the Atlantic Coast Conference -- which has added two more powerhouses in Syracuse and Notre Dame -- is still an objective. But he also said there is no need to publicly voice that goal.
“I think around here, we know what the goals are,” he said. “Those things don’t change from year to year. But our focus is on what we can control and we focus on what happens daily here and we focus on the process of being a good team. The more you focus on the big-picture stuff and talk about that, that’s time you’re wasting instead of doing things you can control like getting out and doing some extra shooting and watching some extra film. So we’re not going to lower our standards regardless of who comes and goes here, but we’re also not going to talk about what we’re going to do. We just want to make sure that if we’re going out every day, we’re getting better.”