After a winter of disappointment for the Maryland men’s basketball team and discontent for its fans during a lackluster 19-13 season, the spring of uncertainty continued Friday for the Terps and their supporters.
Sophomore guard Kevin Huerter, considered the de facto team captain and the team’s leader going into the 2018-19 season, will declare for the 2018 NBA draft, coach Mark Turgeon announced. Huerter does not plan on signing with an agent and could resume his college career.
Huerter, who finished second to fellow sophomore guard Anthony Cowan Jr. in scoring (14.8 points per game) and assists (3.4 per game) while averaging 5.0 rebounds per game, is expected to be invited to next month’s NBA draft combine in Chicago.
Considered one of the best shooters with deep NBA range among the players who are considering making the jump from college to the pros, Huerter follows Maryland teammates Justin Jackson and Bruno Fernando in declaring for the June 21 draft.
Jackson, a fellow sophomore who declared for the draft after his freshman year before returning, officially ended his college career by announcing plans to sign with an agent. His season was cut short by a torn labrum that required surgery in January.
Fernando, who was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team this past season, is taking a similar route to Huerter, though many believe there’s a much better chance of the 6-foot-10 Angolan becoming a first-round draft choice this year and forgoing his last three seasons of eligibility.
Huerter has until May 30 to pull his name out of the draft and return to school.
“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” Turgeon said in a statement released through the athletic department. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future."
Through his family, Huerter declined comment. It seemed almost out of character for a player who spoke on behalf of his teammates and coaches more than any other Terp in his first two seasons in College Park, including an impassioned defense of Turgeon after the final game this season.
In a text message to The Baltimore Sun and media outlets near the family’s home in upstate New York, Huerter’s father, Tom, wrote, “We want to keep this low key. He has great options and knows he’s lucky to be in this spot.
“We also received feedback that was worth exploring [through] this process. We want to keep this simple and gather as much info before May 30. He wouldn’t be where he is without his development at Maryland and he loves the coaches and the school.”
The elder Huerter, who played college basketball at Siena and whose older son, Thomas, plays on the team there, concluded that his 18-year-old son “will not sign with an agent and will utilize his family and coaches to help him [through]. Busy next month for him.”
Though it seems likely that Huerter will return for his junior year, there’s an outside chance he could be an enticing prospect for NBA teams already impressed with his 3-point shooting (nearly 40 percent for his career, 41.7 percent in 2017-18).
Several NBA scouts marveled at the 6-7, 190-pound Huerter’s court vision and savvy after watching him play in person, but conceded that he needed to put on both weight and muscle in order to have a long career in the NBA.
“Right now he’s an NBA player from the neck up, but not one from the neck down,” one NBA scout said early this past season.
An NBA executive, who wished to remain anonymous, said Friday that he expects Huerter to be invited to Chicago.
Asked for Huerter’s strengths and weaknesses, the executive texted: “Shooting, versatility, good size [are strengths]. Often disappears in games, foot speed defensively [are weaknesses].”
Huerter plans on remaining on campus and continuing to work with Kyle Tarp, the team’s director of basketball performance, in order to build up his strength as well as improve his quickness that will be needed to guard NBA-level shooting guards and get shots off himself.
If Huerter and Fernando return to a team that will add the No. 7 recruiting class in the country and the top class in the Big Ten — led by McDonald’s All-American Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) — the Terps are expected to be ranked in the top 20.
Even if Fernando decides to leave, many expect Maryland to improve on last season, the team’s first since joining the Big Ten that it did not receive an NCAA tournament bid. Turgeon is still waiting to hear from at least two graduate transfers, 6-10 forward Trey Porter of Old Dominion and 6-3 forward Desean Murray of Auburn.
As of now, the Terps have two starters definitely returning in Cowan, who was a third-team All-Big Ten selection as well as a member of its All-Defensive team, as well as rising sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph), who had a solid freshman year.
When speculation surfaced recently that Cowan was considering declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, like Huerter and Fernando, Cowan’s father quickly shot it down.
“No he’s not declaring, he’s going to continue to work and get better in the offseason,” Anthony Cowan Sr. wrote in a text message to The Sun.