"He's right," the assistant says. "It was a play with Terrell that we ran and the guys executed really well."

The Terps didn't make the NCAA tournament or NIT in 2011-12. This season, Maryland fans' hopes were raised by a 13-game winning streak that ended with a loss to Florida State on Wednesday night.

Turgeon had planned to start a big lineup Sunday night -- including freshman Shaquille Cleare, who is 6 feet 9, at center and 7-1 sophomore forward Alex Len -- to combat Miami's size.

But Cleare suffered lower back spasms at practice Saturday. He won't start but is expected to play.

Some of the credit for this season's turnaround must go to Spinelli, who has a history of landing top players as a recruiter. He was the point man for recruiting a handful of current Terps.

Spinelli, who has a thick Boston accent and grew up an hour away from the city, recruited freshman Jake Layman and transfer Evan Smotrycz, who are both from Massachusetts. He also recruited Allen, transfer Logan Aronhalt and forward Damonte Dodd, who will enter the program next season. Smotrycz is is not eligible this season because of transfer rules.

Spinelli's outgoing personality — he is a natural storyteller — contributes to his recruiting successes. As an assistant under then-Nebraska coach Barry Collier, he landed All-Big 12 center Aleks Maric. At Texas A&M, he was the primary recruiter of Khris Middleton, now with the Detroit Pistons.

When Maryland hired Turgeon in 2011, there was sentiment among some Texas A&M players that Spinelli — who is particularly passionate about teaching pressure defense — should be tapped to lead the Aggies.

"We felt that he should have been our coach at A&M," Middleton said. "They all believed in him."

But Texas A&M hired former Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy. Spinelli, who is married with three young children, joined Turgeon in College Park.

Maryland is Spinelli's 11th stop, beginning as the head coach of a New York prep school. He met Turgeon early in his career at a coaching retreat.

All of the stops have made a mark on Spinelli and his family.

"We have a very strange house because I have this strong East Coast accent and my daughter and my sons have this Texas twang [from his four years at Texas A&M]," Spinelli said. "She [the daughter] will say, 'Dang!' "

If Spinelli lacks anything from his basketball past, it's the sort of pedigree that would give him an opportunity at a ready-made head coaching job. He is self-made as a coach — just as he was when he walked on as a player at Boston University in the late 1980s and earned a scholarship from coach Mike Jarvis.

"He was a tough, hard-nosed, hard-working and very smart player," said Jarvis, who now coaches at Florida Atlantic. "There are not too many walk-ons that make it, and not too many that get scholarships."

Spinelli said he loves Maryland.

"We're on the path," he says of this season's team. "Who knows? This could be a fun year."

But Jarvis said he hopes somebody is "smart enough" to soon land Spinelli as a head coach.

"A guy like myself really isn't from a pedigree," Spinelli said. "I was not from one of those coaching trees, per se. I was treeless."

His friends say Spinelli has more than paid his dues.

Ten years ago, Spinelli was on a recruiting trip to Australia to recruit Maric for the Cornhuskers.

"I get into my [hotel] room and the red light was blinking. The message was to call the Nebraska office right away. They said: 'Listen, you need to call home right away.'"

It turned out that Spinelli's father had suffered a stroke and was brain dead. Spinelli headed back to the United States to find his father, who died soon afterward, on life support in Worcester, Mass.

But first, Spinelli said, he had time to meet Maric and watch him play.

"We ended up getting the young man [to attend Nebraska]," Spinelli said. "But I wouldn't wish all that on my worst enemy."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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