Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the biggest topic of the past week in Maryland sports.
Maryland’s incoming men’s basketball class has expressed great confidence, and Mark Turgeon said this week that he has no compunctions about playing “young kids.” Might the recruits overshadow the returning handful of players?
Jeff Barker: I think the newcomers will play a lot. I won’t be surprised if there are moments when three or four freshmen find themselves on the court at once.
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But I listened carefully to how Turgeon responded to my questions about his new recruits. He complimented Seth Allen’s and Sam Cassell Jr.’s versatility as combo guards, praised Shaquille Cleare’s inside post defense and Jake Layman’s shooting and defense. “Jake has great feet and good anticipation and good hands,” he said.
But I noticed Turgeon kept steering the conversation back to returnees like Nick Faust, Alex Len and James Padgett. It was as if the coach were saying, "Don’t forget about these guys!"
His most noteworthy quote may have been that he anticipates that Len “will be twice the player next year that he was this year."
Turgeon said he expects his returnees to be leaders.
“I don’t know if it’s starting over because we should have five players that went through it last season,” the coach said. “So it won’t feel completely like starting over. We’ll be much further along.”
Don Markus: I think all coaches are loyal to the players they recruit, which puts Turgeon in a tricky situation for next season. While you can say that he recruited Nick Faust -- after all, he had to convince Faust's mother that coming to College Park after Gary Williams retired was good for her son -- the same is not true for Pe'Shon Howard, James Padgett, Ashton Pankey and, to an extent, Alex Len.
I think Terrell Stoglin's departure helps Turgeon in that regard, and allows him to move forward with his own program. I can see him going to either Sam Cassell Jr. or Seth Allen if Howard is not fully recovered from his knee injury or struggles early. I can also see him playing Shaquille Cleare or Charles Mitchell as much if not more than Padgett, the team's only senior, if they're in shape.
I expect Jake Layman to get a ton of minutes based on his skill set, which I think will be unique to this group. That Turgeon has put it out there that he will use his best players is a sign that he's ready to move on if the guys whom Williams recruited don't step up immediately.
Matt Bracken: Maryland's 2011-12 starting lineup was always going to feature at least one freshman, unless Mark Turgeon wanted to get really crazy and play Ashton Pankey, James Padgett and Alex Len together. So I think some newcomers will, by necessity, overshadow some veterans. I'm not at all surprised that Turgeon acknowledged that he's willing to play "young kids." It's hard to imagine a savvy guy like Turgeon delivering some cliche-filled coachspeak about youngsters biding their time and learning the ropes. He knows that he needs some of these freshmen to really step up and make major impacts if the Terps want to challenge for an NCAA tournament bid.
What's tough to figure about this freshman class is that I can envision all five newcomers making some sort of impact. Seth Allen's play-making ability, leadership and versatility seem to make him a good candidate for minutes at the 1 and the 2. Sam Cassell Jr.'s outside shooting and general fearlessness are things Maryland could've used last season. Jake Layman's length on the perimeter and high outside-shooting percentage can certainly be utilized at the 3 this winter. Charles Mitchell's toughness and penchant for rebounding might make it tough for Maryland to keep him on the bench. And Shaquille Cleare, the headliner of this Terps class, is simply too physical, too skilled and too college-ready to not be a valuable rotation member. Turgeon and his staff will have lots of options this season.
But while the freshmen may steal some attention from Maryland's returners, I still expect the Terps to be led by a few key veterans. Whether he starts at the 2 or the 3, Nick Faust seems primed for a breakout sophomore year. He'd be my early pick to lead the Terps in scoring. It was impossible to read Jeff's piece and not be a little intrigued by Turgeon's comments about Alex Len being "twice the player next year that he was this year." Maryland will go as far as Faust and Len take it. It'll be the job of these freshmen to support those returners and occasionally step up and lead when asked.