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Terps have to consider more than talent in building of men's basketball program

The Baltimore Sun

The transformation of the Maryland basketball team is not yet complete, as Mark Turgeon still has two roster spots left to fill if he so chooses.

If Turgeon has learned anything from the tumultuous stretch that saw five players from last year’s team leave for a variety of reasons, it is this: he and his staff have to do a better job recruiting players who will fit his system and accept roles that don’t necessarily include being scorers or stars or even starters.

In announcing Thursday that 7-foot Slovakian forward Michal Cekovsky had signed his letter of intent and 6-3 shooting guard Richaud Pack was transferring after graduating from North Carolina A&T, Turgeon was quick to talk about their character as much as their talent.

It was a not-so-veiled reference to a few of those who had left.

Turgeon took the high road in saying that forward Charles Mitchell, the latest player to transfer since the end of the season, was leaving with hopes of playing closer to his home in Atlanta, where his grandmother is ill. It should be noted that Turgeon said the same thing about Pe'Shon Howard a year ago and Ashton Pankey two years ago.

Though the circumstances for each player are a bit different, it is the same tact Turgeon used, at least publicly, when it came to announcing that Nick Faust (City) and, more recently, Seth Allen, had become ex-Terps.

Turgeon said after confirming Allen’s decision to transfer that he would take the blame for the exodus that also saw Shaquille Cleare leave after two years of not living up to the hype that followed him from high school in Houston and Roddy Peters depart after struggling on and off the court last season as a freshman.

Mitchell's exit leaves only forward Jake Layman remaining from a highly-touted 2012 recruiting class that was supposed to signal the revival of the program. Though it has not shaken Turgeon's confidence in himself, the instability has certainly raised the same kind of doubts that once stalked - and might still linger around - Maryland football coach Randy Edsall.

In 10 days, Turgeon will welcome another, even more highly rated recruiting class, one ranked ninth in the country by ESPN. Of the five freshmen, Melo Trimble is expected to play the most significant role as the team’s starting point guard.

But will the others – Cekovsky and fellow 7-footer Trayvon Reed, shooting guard Dion Wiley as well as small forward Jared Nickens – get enough court time to keep them happy?

Will Wiley, a big-time scorer in high school, be happier than Faust, who never became the scorer he was back in Baltimore? Will Reed, without nearly the hype, be more a factor than Cleare ever was as a Terp?

Turgeon knows that this is a critical year for him and the program.

After the Terps regressed last season and finished a disappointing 17-15, missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year under his watch and the fourth straight overall, Turgeon knows that he needs to regain the support of a large contingent of dissatisfied fans.

As a team, Maryland needs to quickly establish itself in the upper tier of the Big Ten.

But with a roster where nearly half the rotation could be made up of freshmen, is that even realistic next season?

Mitchell will certainly be a loss in terms of being a high-volume rebounder, particularly on the offensive boards. Allen will be missed for his bursts of scoring. Even Faust will be missed for his defense.

As a group, though, it might be mostly be addition by subtraction.

Mitchell’s spotty work ethic and private grousing about coming off the bench, which became a matter of public consumption during a game against Virginia Tech, won’t be missed.

Nor will Allen’s immaturity when he wasn’t scoring enough for his own liking or Faust’s need to be a big-time scorer as he was at City. The pressure will be off Turgeon to prove he was right to recruit Cleare.

If Turgeon learned anything about the way recruiting has changed since he left Wichita State and Texas A&M for a more high-profile program, it’s that he shouldn’t get caught up in seeing how many stars a player has attached to his name.

Character counts, sometimes even more than talent.

Getting players to buy into roles that might not include starring or scoring or even starting is the next step.

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