COLLEGE PARK ——James Padgett came to Maryland three years with a reputation as a voracious rebounder and defender, the guy who did all the dirty work for Lance Stephenson at a Brooklyn basketball factory known as Lincoln High School.
That image eroded during Padgett's first two seasons in College Park, when classmate Jordan Williams became a star and Padgett became mostly a cheerleader on the bench. When he got a chance to play, Padgett looked scared.
Turns out, he was.
Without making any direct references to his former coach, Gary Williams, Padgett said that the difference he feels under Mark Turgeon is "being able to make mistakes."
"You're not coming out and you can take the risk of make plays — like taking charges — and do something you normally don't do if you know you're coming out really quick," Padgett said.
Making his first start in Sunday's season-opening 71-62 victory over UNC-Wilmington, Padgett scored a career-high 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting, pulled down seven rebounds and took a couple of charges. Combined with redshirt freshman Ashton Pankey's 13 points and eight rebounds, it gave the Terps an inside presence most thought they lacked after Jordan Williams opted to turn pro last spring.
"I think they're just going to continue to grow," Turgeon said. "Ashton has come leaps and bounds since August. James actually has a knack to score down there. When you see my teams in the past, we've developed post players and make them better. It's early. There are some games when we're going to be going up against really big, strong, tall guys where they might not be able to score down there, but the majority of the games I think we could have a great balance with those guys. Just keep them confident and playing well."
Maryland (1-0) will need similar production from Padgett and Pankey — as well as senior center Berend Weijs, who was in foul trouble throughout Sunday's game — when the Terps meet No. 17 Alabama (2-0) Thursday at 5 p.m. in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan. Just as he did against the Seahawks, Padgett will carry a chip on his shoulder going against senior forward Jamychal Green.
"We have a lot of doubters in the post, and they say that the bigs are not good, so we want to come out every day and play hard and prove them wrong," said Padgett, who played a career-high 31 minutes against UNC-Wilmington. "When we get into the [flow of the game] earlier, if it helps the team, that's what we'll do."
After showing some flashes as a freshman on a team that tied Duke for the ACC regular-season championship and lost a close game to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Padgett's confidence sagged noticeably last season on a team that didn't even make the NIT. So did Gary Wiliams' patience with the 6-8, 225-pound forward.
"There were a lot of great players ahead of me, [and] I learned a lot from them," said Padgett, who played sparingly behind behind Jordan Williams and Dino Gregory. "As a young player, everybody wants to play. You get down at times, but you've got to fight through it, learn as much as you can and when the opportunity comes, you've got to take advantage of it."
Perhaps the most glaring statistic last season was the fact that Padgett did not have a single assist in 271 minutes. He had two in the season opener, including a neat backdoor bounce pass to Sean Mosley for a layup. Another deficiency — free throw shooting — is still an issue. A less than 50 percent shooter (41 of 88) from the line his first two seasons, Padgett missed all three of his foul shots Sunday.
"James is a really good passer," said Turgeon, repeating a comment he made when preseason practice began. "I like getting him the ball in the block sometimes beause he does a good job getting it out. He makes a lot of good passes in practice. That's a skill I didn't know he had until we started getting up and down in practice."
Padgett said that he has always been asked to pass because he was often double-teamed when he was younger "so we learned how to pass."
The performance of Padgett and Pankey took UNC-Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson by surprise.
"You hear so much about the guards, how good they are and everything, " Peterson said. "I think if Padgett and Pankey can play like that, that'll really help this team out inside."