Maryland basketball fans had been clamoring all throughout the team’s disappointing 17-15 season for third-year coach Mark Turgeon to do a makeover of the roster before the program joined the Big Ten.
On Tuesday, what seemed like pure mid-winter fantasy became reality when three players — junior guard Nick Faust (City), sophomore center Shaquille Cleare and freshman point guard Roddy Peters — were granted their release to transfer.
The moves came as Turgeon also prepared for the departure of assistant coach Scott Spinelli, who is expected to be named to a similar position at Boston College later this week.
Turgeon said in a statement released by the athletic department on Tuesday that it was “unfortunate” the trio would no longer be part of the program, but wished them all the best.
In an interview later with The Baltimore Sun, Turgeon said that he will particularly miss Cleare, who came in as one of the top high school centers in the country but never progressed, first playing behind Alex Len as a freshman and then losing his starting position to fellow sophomore Charles Mitchell last season.
“I’ve known him since he was a freshman in high school. I’m sad it didn’t work out,” Turgeon said. “I’m really going to miss him. I want Shaq to be happy and be successful.”
Turgeon said he “really enjoyed” coaching Faust, who he had to persuade to come to Maryland after taking over when Gary Williams retired. Despite never becoming the scorer he was in high school — Faust scored 20 points in a game only once, last season — he adjusted to changing roles.
“For three years, Nick tried to do what I asked of him, and he became an elite defender for us,” said Turgeon, who had Faust play point guard as a freshman and then had him come off the bench for most of last season after two years as a starter. “I did enjoy coaching Nick and I’m really going to miss him.”
The departure of all three players was partly the byproduct of Maryland’s 2014 recruiting class, rated among the top 15 in the country.
The anticipated arrival of point guard Melo Trimble, a McDonald’s All-American, would likely have kept Peters, who is limited offensively, to a reserve role. The addition Monday of 7-foot Slovakian Michal Cekovsky — a player compared to Len — would have further marginalized Cleare.
The addition of scorers Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens would have cut into Faust’s playing time.
“Just looking at the guys that are leaving and the recruiting class that is coming in, Roddy Peters is leaving, Nick Faust is leaving, those are guys they had hoped would provide offensive sparks,” said Evan Daniels, a recruiting analyst for ScoutHoops.com. “Those three guys coming in on the perimeter are all guys who can flat-out score. All three of those guys are going to be impactful on the offensive end.”
Daniels believes that the departure of Cleare might be felt down the road “because he could’ve become a good player” but will certainly be more than off-set by the arrival of Cekovsky, considered one of the top young big men in Europe and a player one NBA executive called “a future pro.”
Said Daniels: “He has a tremendous upside, and he might do what Mark Turgeon wants to do better than Shaq Cleare.”
The departure of the three players leaves 12 on scholarship out of the 13 allowed under NCAA rules, depending on what Turgeon decides to do with junior forward Jon Graham (Calvert Hall). Turgeon said Tuesday night that Graham will remain on scholarship “for now.”
Graham had been given a scholarship for last season when he transferred last summer from Penn State, but had not been guaranteed one for Maryland’s inaugural season in the Big Ten.
Though there had been rumors swirling for weeks that Faust was unhappy with his role that focused more on defense than offense, Faust’s father, Anthony, told The Sun last week that he doubted his son would leave with a year of eligibility remaining.
Faust averaged a career-high 9.4 points in a little over 27 minutes a game, playing the third-most minutes on the team behind sophomore forward Jake Layman and junior guard Dez Wells, despite the fact that he was used mostly coming off the bench.
Faust would not have to sit out after transferring if he had graduated this spring or summer, but that is not expected to happen.
None of the three players could be reached for comment and Anthony Faust wrote in a text message to The Sun: “No comment for Faust family at this time.”