Promising Maryland basketball recruiting class will get chance to make early impact

Seth Allen wasn't quite satisfied.

Sure, the Fredericksburg (Va.) Christian combo guard is part of an incoming Maryland basketball class brimming with possibility.

It's a confident, five-member group that knows it has the opportunity to make a swift impact on a Terps team that was depth-challenged and faded late in the regular season, finishing 17-15. "I've got a history of playing young kids," coach Mark Turgeon said this week. "And I'm going to play the best players."

The class has inside strength in Shaquille Cleare, a 6-foot-9, 285-pound center from The Village School in Houston. "Shaq will be a good post defender because he is so big and strong," Turgeon said.

It has backcourt versatility in Allen and 6-foot-4 Sam Cassell Jr. Both can play point guard and score. Those skills are particularly valued because last season's leading scorer, sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin — who attempted more than twice as many field goals as any of his teammates — was suspended last month and opted to leave early for the NBA draft.

What the class lacks — besides the sort of seasoning that only comes with college experience — is a catchy nickname.

That void is what had Allen feeling like there was unfinished business. He's heard about one option — the "Crab Five" — but doesn't know what to make of it.

"On Twitter, I hear about the Crab Five. I don't know what that is," Allen said.

The class also includes bulky, 6-foot-8 Charles Mitchell from Marietta, Ga., and 6-foot-8 small forward Jake Layman from Wrentham, Mass.

Together, they form perhaps Maryland's most touted class since the ones that entered after the 2002 national championship season. Players such as Travis Garrison and Mike Jones failed to live up to lofty expectations.

This group's hallmark might be its confidence.

During last month's Capital Classic in Alexandria, Va., class members clowned with one another when they weren't on the floor. Wearing big smiles, the Maryland commitments draped their arms around one another when they saw a video camera and yelled, "Go Terps!"

"I had hoped and imagined it would click so quickly in just the few days we were together," Mitchell said later. "It was just what I imagined."

Layman did not participate because of tonsillitis. Others made ambitious projections about the season ahead.

"Years from now, I think they'll say this is the best class to come through Maryland" in a long time, Mitchell said. "They won an NCAA and ACC championship, and they set the expectations for Maryland basketball very high."

Apprised of Mitchell's remarks, Turgeon paused before saying: "I like his confidence."

But Turgeon isn't eager to see the class hyped. "I don't like to judge or talk about classes until their careers are over," he said.

The coach suggested he doesn't want to raise fans' expectations to unrealistic levels considering how young the team will be.

"You look at our roster, I think we're going to have 10 players on scholarship, and eight will be freshmen and sophomores," he said.

And Turgeon doesn't want the newcomers to overshadow key returning players such as swingman Nick Faust (City), point guard Pe'Shon Howard and center Alex Len. Turgeon said Howard is ahead of schedule in his effort to return from surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in February.

"I think Alex will be twice the player next year that he was this year," Turgeon said. "I think Nick Faust will be the same."

Len, a 7-footer in his first season last year after arriving from Ukraine, showed great promise but was inconsistent. He had to become accustomed to taking a pounding around the basket. He was also adjusting to a new language and his academic workload.

"He has improved his work habits, gotten a little bit tougher and has really worked hard in the weight room," Turgeon said.

Faust, a freshman last season, had a string of double-digit scoring games near the end of the year, including 19 points against Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

"Nick has probably improved the most since the season ended," Turgeon said.

Also coming to Maryland in the fall is former Michigan forward Evan Smotrycz. But he won't be eligible to play in games until the following season because of transfer rules. Queen Anne's senior Damonte Dodd, a power forward, said months ago that he had committed orally to Maryland, but he has not signed a letter of intent.

Turgeon will be entering his second Maryland season following Gary Williams' retirement. Because of the timing of his hiring, this is the first recruiting class that is the coach's own. Like his players, he is still growing into the program.

"I know last year they [the Terps] didn't have their best year ever," said Layman, a solid outside shooter.

But coming to a program in transition, Layman said he feels as hopeful as he did when he entered high school and found himself playing for a second-year coach.

"Kind of a new start," Layman said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Matthew Bracken contributed to this article.