Mark Turgeon said Tuesday that he expects to tinker with a "small ball" lineup of four guards this season, and may blend the group with a raw 7-footer who the Maryland men's basketball coach believes possesses as much potential as he does length.
Olexiy ("Alex") Len, a center from Antratsit, Ukraine, only recently turned 18-years-old, "so the kid's still growing, still getting his coordination, but he's got a chance," Turgeon said the day before the team assembled for Media Day. "He's one of those guys at the end of the year I think you'll look and say he's our most improved player because it's all so new to him and God gave him so much ability that he should improve at a pretty high rate."
Turgeon, who has been able to work with Len and the other players in limited preseason practices, said it's too soon to gauge how quickly Len will contribute. "These big guys, you just never know. We're all anticipating him helping us. How much we don't know," the coach said.
Maryland hopes to hear soon from an NCAA clearinghouse that must approve Len's academic credentials. "I feel comfortable that he should be cleared to play, but you're also dealing with clearinghouse eligibility and they might see it differently," Turgeon said.
Len enrolled in the fall and is expected to be present — along with fellow freshman Nick Faust (City) — for media day activities, although the two newcomers may not be available for interviews. "I don't want those kids to get overwhelmed," Turgeon said.
Turgeon did not equivocate in his comments about Faust, a 6-foot-6 guard. It was clear by his comments that he expects — and needs — the guard to be good in a hurry.
Maryland lacks depth and size this season. The team has almost as many walk-ons (six) as scholarship players (eight).
"Nick's been great — put on a lot of weight, he's getting stronger," the coach said. "I expect a lot out of Nick. He's talented, he works hard. The thing about Nick that's unique is that he's got a chance to become a great defender. He's long. In Nick and Alex, that's two really good pieces. If we get Alex through, [we have] two good freshmen who have a chance to be really, really good ACC players."
Turgeon was interviewed in the Comcast Center office he inherited from Gary Williams. Turgeon has rearranged the office, moving the desk and black swivel chair to an adjacent wall, but preserving a framed color photo of a sold-out Comcast Center on a game night. He has kept in touch with Williams — the two are having dinner this week — and said of his predecessor: "I'm sure he's missing it."
In the interview, Turgeon referred several times to the future. It seems hard for the coach and his staff not to be enthusiastic about the recruiting class — three players so far — that has orally committed for the 2012-13 season. Turgeon is prohibited by NCAA rules from discussing members of the class, which includes highly touted post player Shaquille Cleare, forward Jake Layman and guard Seth Allen. Speaking generally, Turgeon said he'd like to add a few more players to the class.
Turgeon, a former Kansas point guard, can have a deadpan sense of humor. He said that 6-foot-10 center Berend Weijs — who was on a 5,000-calories-per-day regimen to bulk up — had finally gained 10 pounds. "He'll probably lose it before the season," the coach said with a mock frown.
Turgeon, hired from Texas A&M, spent a portion of the offseason studying with longtime Creighton coach Dana Altman, now at Oregon. Altman's teams have played a "small ball" brand of pressing and shooting 3s. "I just watched a lot of film," Turgeon said.
He said he began to visualize how guards Terrell Stoglin, Pe'Shon Howard, Sean Mosley and Faust might play that style. He said swingman Mychal Parker could also be in that group.
"The whole thing about offense today is there are such good defenders and such length you need great spacing," Turgeon said. "With Sean and Nick and Terrell and Pe'Shon, you can have great spacing."