Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
With Mark Turgeon’s team starting summer workouts, which Terps have the most to gain and the most to lose?
Don Markus: This is a critical summer for Turgeon’s program. Though many, including Turgeon, see progress in going from 17-15 in his first season in College Park to finishing his second year with a 25-13 record after a trip to the NIT semifinals, most Terp fans (and Turgeon) believe that anything short of an NCAA tournament bid would be deemed unacceptable in 2013-14.
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So Turgeon is at the top of both lists, with the most to gain and the most to lose if this summer doesn’t go as well as planned. Not only do the Terps get 16 hours of individual workouts over the next eight weeks, but Turgeon also can have as many as 10 two-hour practices in advance of his team’s trip to the Bahamas in early August.
Replacing Alex Len and finding a starting point guard remain Turgeon’s two biggest priorities. That means there will be a lot at stake over the next couple of months for rising sophomore big men Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell, as well as rising sophomore point guard Seth Allen and incoming freshman point guard Roddy Peters of Suitland.
Of the four, I think Allen has the most to gain because converting to being a point guard is clearly his path to a possible NBA career. Allen certainly has the physical tools, but there are still questions about his shoot-first approach to the game and whether sacrificing his biggest asset – his ability to score – will be a good thing for the Terps in the long run.
While there will be a lot of eyes watching to see whether Allen can make the transition, just as many will be looking at Cleare. Turgeon has said Cleare dropped a considerable amount of weight since the end of last season, when he was barely playing at all, and Turgeon remains confident that the 6-9 center can live up to the expectations that followed him out of high school.
Asked how big a summer this is for Cleare, Turgeon said recently, “It’s huge, we all like Shaq so much because he works so hard, he brings it. It’s a big summer. It’s a big year for Shaq. I think sometimes people forget that he was a Top 30 player coming out of high school. We haven’t. He just had a lottery pick ahead of him.”
Turgeon said that Cleare’s numbers as a freshman – 3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds in a little over 12 minutes a game - were better than former Maryland standout Chris Wilcox, who went from playing an even more limited role his first year in College Park to being an important part of a national championship team as a sophomore to becoming a lottery pick after the 2002 Final Four.
“Shaq had a good freshman year. His numbers were better than Wilcox as a freshman, we keep telling him that,” Turgeon said. “Shaq’s worked hard to get his weight down, he’s a great kid. I think once he starts to play and he’s the guy, he’ll get used to the speed of the game. I expect him to really flourish this year.”
There has been speculation that Maryland, like other teams, could go to a smaller lineup. But Turgeon said of Cleare and Mitchell, “We definitely [expect] one of them to be really good, hopefully both of them. We can go two ways. We can play them together and have a big lineup and we can go small, even with Charles at center.”
Aside from Cleare and Allen, this is a big summer for several Terps. There won’t be any excuses next season for Nick Faust (City), who has started for most of his two seasons. Given the emergence of Dez Wells as Maryland’s top scoring option late last season, the addition of transfer Evan Smotrycz and the improvement of Jake Layman over his freshman year, Faust will have to work hard this summer to maintain his role and starting job.
From what I’ve been told by the Maryland coaches, the 6-9 Smotrycz will have a huge impact next season at what is now called a “stretch 4” – in other words, a power forward who can shoot it from the outside. The Michigan transfer was often Maryland’s best player in practice last season and according to Turgeon “gives us something we didn’t have – a big guy who can shoot.”
Before workouts began this week, Turgeon was already getting great reports about Smotrycz from Kyle Tarp, the team’s Drector of Basketball Performance.
“It’s funny because we’re not around him a lot right now, but Kyle Tarp’s telling me he’s been a really good leader in the weight room in the spring and so far early summer, which is good to hear," Turgeon said. "Obviously he’s won at a high level, and he’s really worked hard on his body and he’s become a better player, he’s really worked hard on his game, so he’s a huge piece.”
But it will all go back to Turgeon and how he gets his team ready for a season when he should have enough talent to carry the Terps back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. Considering some of the grumbling last season directed at Turgeon, he has the most to gain – or lose – over the course of the next couple of months.
With Dion Wiley’s commitment, what’s next for Maryland’s 2014 recruiting class?
Matt Bracken: The Terps landed their top shooting guard target for 2014 on Friday morning with a pledge from Potomac’s Dion Wiley. You can read more about the four-star prospect here.
In Wiley and Bishop O’Connell’s Melo Trimble, Maryland has landed D.C.’s top shooting guard and top point guard. The Terps are most likely set at guard for 2014, meaning Mount St. Joseph combo guard Phil Booth – who has held a Maryland for several months – is likely to end up at Georgetown, Indiana, Villanova or one of his many other high-major suitors.
According to the Washington Post, Jared Nickens from the Westtown School in Pennsylvania is scheduled to visit College Park next week. At 6 feet 6, Nickens – who has visited Oregon State and also reportedly plans to check out Dayton and Wake Forest – will play the 3 at the next level.