It was one of several questions raised Tuesday during Maryland Men’s Basketball Media Day about a future without departed three-year star Melo Trimble, but it took his former coach down a different path.
This one wasn’t about how the young Terps would fill the void left by one of the best players in the program’s history or how Turgeon might design his offensive attack around the array of young players who might share the role that Trimble played and the leadership he provided.
It went something like this: Considering that Trimble felt it was time to move on to professional basketball after his junior season, did Turgeon feel that — from a coaching perspective — it was also time for the program to move in a new direction?
Of course, there are several ways to interpret a question like that. It wasn’t meant to suggest that the Terps might be better off this season without Trimble, but Turgeon was quick to dismiss that notion anyway.
“Melo was pretty special and he did a lot for our program and did a lot for me,” Turgeon said, “so if Melo would have played here for the next 20 years, I wouldn’t have minded it. But obviously, he has moved on so you have to move on as a program and as a coach.”
The departure of Trimble leaves Turgeon with the opportunity to distribute playing time more evenly among a team he feels is deeper than last year’s, but there certainly is no guarantee that more options in the backcourt will mean better guard play than the Terps featured with Trimble and freshman Anthony Cowan playing the leading roles last season.
It was no coincidence that the Terps did not reach the NCAA tournament under Turgeon until Trimble arrived and reached it in all three of his seasons at Maryland, so there has to be some pressure to keep that streak alive. But Turgeon seems confident that the growth of his key sophomores and the arrival of some top recruits will keep the Terps moving forward.
“We had a great feeling down deep that that was his last year … so we prepared for it as best we could with guys we recruited,” he said. “You’d have to ask the guys. I don’t know if practice feels any different. We’re still running the same things. I’ve been doing this long enough to know you lose great players and you move on and it’s a great opportunity for some guys to come up and be a big part of our program.
“But he was special for us. The last three years have been a lot of fun and Melo obviously was a huge part of that.”
The leadership question will remain unanswered until the Terps begin play and face some real challenges, but several of the underclassmen showed surprising maturity as freshmen last year. In the absence of a multiyear star such as a Trimble or a Dez Wells, the developing chemistry of the team will likely determine who will lead it.
“I think we have a bunch of leaders in this group and I think it’s a really easy team to lead,” Turgeon said. “We have a lot of really good guys who are coachable guys that are really about winning and doing the right things.’’
Turgeon mentioned several players, including junior Dion Wiley, senior Michal Cekovsky and sophomore Justin Jackson, but one player stood out in his assessment.
“I think the guy that’s most natural, the guy that likes to talk the most and kind of gets it the most is Kevin Huerter,’’ Turgeon said. “Now, I’m not saying he’s our leader. I’m saying he kind of gets it and he just naturally does it and doesn’t even know he’s doing it and does a good job with. … I’ve said I think it’s an easy team to lead, but we haven’t lost any games yet. I think we’ve got a bunch of leaders and a bunch of guys who follow the right way.”
Huerter knows there’s a void to be filled, but said Tuesday that it’s up to everyone on the team to perform better. Nobody had to tell him or his teammates that.
“There wasn’t one specific moment,” Huerter said. “I think in a lot of our exit interviews, even before we knew Melo was leaving, Coach Turg just told a lot of people who were coming back, ‘If you guys want to be better than you were this past year, everyone’s got to work harder this offseason. Everyone’s got to pick one or two things they want to get better at.’ … I think everyone already wanted to come in and have a more increased role and improve on something from last year, but there wasn’t really one specific time when we all said we need to do something.”
“We don’t really think about stuff like that,” Wiley said. “We’ve just tried to play together as a team at all times. We just try to hold each other accountable. There’s no certain person who’s the set captain or someone who speaks for us. We just hold each other accountable.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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