Welcome to a second season of Morning Shootaround. We will follow the Terps throughout the 2013-14 season, but this year in this space, we will provide a look ahead rather than back. We will try to analyze Maryland's strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of its upcoming opponent. We also hope to provide quotes and anecdotes from practices to give some idea of what Mark Turgeon and his team are doing.
Here are a few things to look for as the Terps get ready to play at No. 5 Ohio State on Wednesday:
It’s not quite the now-legendary story about Michael Jordan not making the Laney (N.C.) High School varsity team as a freshman, but Varun Ram’s basketball career didn’t get off to a rousing start in Howard County.
“In Howard County, there’s a bunch of middle school teams, and I played for the Howard County Heat,” Ram said Saturday. “I never played; I was on the end of the bench.
“My mom thought it was, like, a rec league, and everybody should play. She was kind of upset. She said, ‘Why are you wasting your time?’ It did hurt my confidence a little bit.”
Right next to Ram on the bench was Brandon Bjerre. By the time they were seniors in high school, Ram and Bjerre were the two leading candidates for Howard County's player of the year.
Bjerre plays for Division II Erskine (S.C.) College, and Ram for Maryland. After two years at Division III Trinity (Conn.) College, Ram transferred to College Park and sat out last season after walking on to the team.
On Sunday, the 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior point guard could make his first start for the Terps. Ram might have been the only one who thought he could ever make the Maryland team, let alone start.
“I felt there was a small part of me that did, but everyone else was telling me no,” Ram said. “I feel confident in my abilities. It’s nice that coach [Mark Turgeon] has confidence me to do that.”
Ram said he has always used the doubts he heard as motivation. After practice Saturday, Turgeon, a former point guard at Kansas, called Ram "our most complete point guard."
Starting with the season opener, in which he played tough defense against Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright, Ram has not backed down against any opposing point guard, even against Ohio State’s Aaron Craft last Wednesday.
He has won nearly as many battles as he has lost.
“I’ve been around a lot longer than some of the guys like [freshmen] Roddy [Peters] and Damonte [Dodd],” Ram said. "I lead by example, and hopefully they follow suit."
Sophomore forward Charles Mitchell said Ram “is by far the hardest-working player I’ve ever been around. … He just gives us all he’s got every time he’s on the floor.”
After moving junior wing guard Dez Wells to the point after presumed starter Seth Allen broke his foot in the preseason, Turgeon said Saturday that he would use the 6-5 Wells in that role only in tight games, if even then.
Wells struggled early in the season playing point guard, and again in the first half of Wednesday’s loss to the No. 5 Buckeyes before Turgeon inserted Ram and moved Wells back to the wing.
He scored 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half of the 76-60 loss to Ohio State.
“He brings a whole different level of scoring when Varun’s on the point,” Mitchell said. “It started in the second half; his offensive game just exploded.”
Coming off a 13-17 season, George Washington was pretty much off the college basketball radar both locally and nationally. That has changed in the first month of the season, after the Colonials knocked off Miami and then-No. 20 Creighton.
George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, a former Maryland assistant under head coach Gary Williams, said playing in the Atlantic 10 Conference a year ago “was a tough league to start four freshmen in.” Joining those sophomores in the lineup and rotation this year is former Indiana player Maurice Creek and fifth-year senior Isaiah Armwood, who started his career at Villanova.
Lonergan believes Creek and Armwood will play key roles Sunday, since both have faced the Terps. Creek played with the Hooisers during a Maryland victory at Assembly Hall three years ago. Armwood was a freshman at Villanova when the Wildcats beat Maryland at the BB&T Classic. Armwood, who grew up in West Baltimore and attended high school at Montrose Christian, said he considered Maryland out of high school and when he was transferring from Villanova.
With Maryland’s struggles to get consistent play out of point guard for the third straight season, many are interested in Allen's timetable for a return. Turgeon was initially told to expect a full recovery in eight to 10 weeks.
“Seth is five weeks out, next Thursday is six weeks, and they’ll do an X-ray and that will determine where we are,” Turgeon said. “From what I am told, he’s doing great. He’s in great shape; he’s staying away from McDonald’s."