The merry-go-round that has been the Maryland men’s basketball roster kept spinning Thursday, with forward Charles Mitchell joining four others who have jumped off since the end of last season and Richaud Pack, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard from North Carolina A&T, hopping on.
The Terps also announced that 7-foot Slovakian forward Michal Cekovsky officially signed his national letter of intent after committing to Maryland last month.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon made it clear that Mitchell’s decision to transfer was different than the others. Turgeon said the 6-8, 260-pound Mitchell, the team’s leading rebounder last season, was leaving because his grandmother was ill and he wanted to play closer to his home in Atlanta.
“I feel terrible for Charles and his family,” Turgeon said in a statement. “Although we will miss Charles, we understand and support his decision to move closer to his home so he can help support and be there for his family. I appreciate Charles’ commitment to our program and he will always be a part of our family.”
In the same athletic department press release, Mitchell thanked Turgeon for his “support and compassion during my family’s time of need. I loved playing for Coach. He is a great man and great coach … Knowing that she [his grandmother] raised me and is still a very big part of my life, I decided to move closer to home. It’s important for me to be there for my grandmother and to help support my family. I didn’t want to leave, but I have to put my family first.”
Pack, a cousin of former NBA player Robert Pack, averaged a team-high 17 points a game last season for the Aggies after playing his first two years at Florida International. The 22-year-old said in an interview that he hopes to give the Terps points coming off the bench as well a more mature presence on and off the court.
“I definitely think I will help the team as far as leadership, I’ll be able to contribute a lot with the experience I’ve been through to help the freshmen, to see what college basketball is really about,” Pack said. “I can relate to coming in, not being ready for the pace and the physical play, [not] playing hard, things like that.”
Said Turgeon: “Richaud is a great character kid, smart kid, he’s going to be in the graduate business school here, graduated with honors from A&T. Good player, he can really score it. He can shoot it (44 percent from the field, 38.1 percent on 3-pointers). We needed a perimeter player badly and he fills that need for us.”
The addition of Pack gives the Terps 11 players on scholarship. Turgeon has said that he hopes to fill the remaining two spots with transfers, either those like Pack who can play right away because they have graduated or players who will have to sit out a year in accordance with NCAA rules.
Turgeon said that he plans to use Pack exclusively on the wing, meaning that incoming freshman Melo Trimble remains the team’s only point guard. Trimble and the rest of a recruiting class ranked ninth in the country by ESPN will join the team for summer workouts beginning June 2, when summer school begins.
The signing of Cekovsky, considered one of the top young big men in Europe, will help counter the loss of Mitchell, one of the best offensive rebounders in the country last season. Cekovsky is expected to contribute immediately and, along with fellow freshman 7-footer Trayvon Reed, give the Terps a presence around the rim that they lacked after the departure of center Alex Len in 2013.
“He’s a really talented 7-foot guy that's not your typical 7-footer, he can really run, he’s skilled, has a great upside,” Turgeon said of Cekovsky. “He can do a lot of things at both ends of the floor.”
Asked if Cekovsky can rebound, Turgeon said, “I hope so.”
Turgeon also made a point to say that both Pack and Cekovsky were considered players with high character, “which is important to us right now.”
The departure of Mitchell leaves forward Jake Layman, who will be a junior, as the only remaining player from Turgeon’s first recruiting class. Center Shaquille Cleare, who played sparingly his first two years, transferred to Texas. Point guard Seth Allen, the team’s second-leading scorer behind Dez Wells as a sophomore, announced recently that he was going to Virginia Tech.
Pack could help offset the loss of Allen. After barely playing his first two years at Florida International — including an eight-minute stint at Maryland in a four-point loss as a sophomore — Pack said he worked hard on his game during the year he sat out while regaining his eligibility at North Carolina A&T.
“I put in a lot of work and got so much better,” Pack said. “I don’t know if it was maturity or physically, I don’t know what it was, but I knew by the end of this season I was ready [for better competition].”
Pack knows he is coming to give the Terps another scorer to complement Wells, Layman and forward Evan Smotrycz, but said he would be willing to play point guard if needed.
“If I need to, I definitely can,” Pack said. “I’m comfortable bringing the ball up, bringing it up in transition. We talked about that, if he [Turgeon] needs me to do it I can do it.”