In his first public comments since the Maryland men's basketball team ended its 24-9 season with a loss to Xavier in the NCAA tournament – the first Round of 64 defeat for the Terps since 1997 – coach Mark Turgeon said there is a lot to build on, beginning with the three freshmen who started the majority of games.
Speaking to a large gathering of fans Thursday who came to the National Aquarium in Baltimore for the first event on a three-stop Terps on Tour coaches caravan this month, Turgeon said, "Those freshmen were pretty special for me last year. It's amazing what they did, and they're great kids on top of it. I've got all three of those guys back."
While point guard Anthony Cowan, wing Kevin Huerter and forward Justin Jackson are expected to be the foundation of the 2017-18 team, Huerter said, "The key for our team this year is that Ceko [Michal Cekovsky] and Dion Wiley get healthy and stay healthy. Them being hurt the last two years, especially last season, I thought hurt our basketball team. We still did some amazing things."
Talking later to reporters, Turgeon said Cekovsky, who broke his ankle in a road game at Wisconsin late in the season, is still rehabbing from the injury and isn't expected back on the court until August. Wiley, who missed the 2015-16 season after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus, is still dealing with a back injury that plagued him for most of last season.
It's one of the reasons why Turgeon and his assistants continue to look for at least one more player to fill a roster spot for next season. Currently at 11 scholarship players, two below the NCAA limit, Turgeon has reportedly been looking to bring in either another big man or a guard who can back up Cowan and Huerter.
"We'll see. I'm being really selective," Turgeon said of bringing in another player. "There've been reports out there that I'm going to get this kid or that kid. Whether we're involved or not I might not tell you. It's got to be the right fit. If we can find the right fit, the right piece, personality-wise and chemistry-wise and player-wise, we'll add that piece to our team."
As of now, the Terps are counting on 6-9, 230-pound center Sean Obi, a graduate transfer from Duke who sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery, to back up Cekovsky and 6-4 Darryl Morsell (Mount St. Joseph), an incoming freshman, to take some pressure off Cowan at the point.
If he doesn't bring in another guard, Turgeon has confidence that Cowan can assume an even larger role than he did last season when he shared the backcourt with Melo Trimble, who signed with an agent and decided to forgo his senior year. Turgeon also believes that the nearly 6-7 Huerter and others can help out with the ballhandling responsibilities.
"Ant's ready." Turgeon said. "Ant played close to 30 [minutes a game] last year. Kevin was a point guard in high school. Dion Wiley can actually play point if he has to, if he can get healthy. And then Darryl is going to be a point. When I was recruiting him, I was recruiting him as a point guard knowing that Melo was going to leave. It's all going to work out. All my guys think like point guards."
Turgeon is counting on Obi and Morsell to give his team some much-needed toughness, something noticeably missing toward the end of last season, when the Terps watched a school-record 20-2 start disappear with seven losses in the last 11 games.
"I thought our three freshmen were really, really tough last year," Turgeon said. "I thought they were physically tough for what they were giving up [in terms of weight and strength]. I thought they were mentally tough. I haven't been around Bruno [Fernando] enough, but I've watched Darryl a lot to know he's mentally tough.
"Tougher teams win. You've got to have skill and all that stuff. The season's long and you've got to mentally be able to handle it, physically be able to handle it. We feel like we're getting there. I think Ivan [Bender] is a tough kid. Josh Tomaic [who redshirted last season] gives us a little toughness. Sean Obi, talking to the Duke guys, he was the most physical guy they had in practice."