Q&A; with Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon

Mark Turgeon’s first full recruiting class at Maryland got under way three days after he was introduced as the Terps’ basketball coach with the commitment of Fredericksburg (Va.) Christian guard Seth Allen, and it didn’t end until late April when Baltimore native Sam Cassell Jr. offered his pledge.

In between landing Allen and Cassell, Turgeon and his staff secured commitments from a trio of four-star prospects in center Shaquille Cleare (The Village School, Houston), small forward Jake Layman (King Philip High, Wrentham, Mass.) and power forward Charles Mitchell (Wheeler High, Marietta, Ga.). The five-man group is considered a top-15 class nationally by most recruiting websites.

Turgeon also spent his first full year on the job monitoring the transfer wire. That paid off with commitments from Michigan forward Evan Smotrycz (who will sit out this year) and Albany guard Logan Aronhalt, who has graduated and will be eligible to play immediately for the Terps.

Turgeon spoke to The Sun this week about Maryland’s incoming freshmen, transfers, recruiting for 2013 and beyond, replacing Terrell Stoglin, expectations for this season and more.

Recruiting this 2012 class started for you almost immediately after you got the job with Seth Allen’s commitment. Obviously he was a guy you were familiar with at Texas A&M.; Why was he the first guy, and what do you expect from him?

Well, he was the first guy because he was the first guy to say yes. He’s a guy that was really interested in us at A&M;, but it was just too far away. I thought he could play, but a lot of people were missing him. What do we expect from him this year? We need him to play and he needs to help us. We’re short on guards, but we’re running with some good ones, and we expect them all to play. Seth wants to play point guard. He can play both. He’s definitely a combo guard. He can score. We need to teach him to be more of a point guard. He’s a natural scorer, and he’s a better defender than I thought. He was well coached in high school. He had a really good summer for us. He’s young – he’s going to be 17 when he starts college. He won’t turn 18 until October. It’s a process for him, but he had a great summer and we expect him to help us.

Shaquille Cleare was next on the list, and he’s a guy, again, that you were recruiting at A&M;, and Maryland was involved with under Gary Williams. How did that recruitment take shape once you got here, and what kind of role do you envision for him this year? 

Shaq’s a kid that I fell in love with as a person when I was at A&M.; He spent a lot of time with us there. He’s had a great summer. He’s just a great kid, great work ethic, great habits. He does what you ask. He had a great summer on and off the floor. He’s actually better than I thought. He’s a good player – better than what I anticipated when he got here. He’s just trying to learn to play the game at a little bit higher level. We expect Shaq to help us a lot. One thing about Shaq is that he likes to hit – like hit people in a physical way, and not just hitting, but contact-wise on the court. He gives us a physical presence that we really didn’t have at all last year. It’s nice to have. He’s just a big, strong kid who is improving daily as a basketball player.

Your staff was in early on Jake Layman. Did you ever expect him to be at the level where he’s representing his country on the U-18 team?  And how much of a factor will he be from Day 1?

I loved him. I watched him at Peach Jam going into his junior year. I just loved him. He had so many good players on his team that he went unnoticed. I thought he had a chance to be great. He probably blew up a little quicker than I thought he would. He had a great summer with the USA team, and winning the gold medal was a great experience for him. It gave him confidence. He’s willing to learn and is just like a sponge trying to take everything he can to try to get better. We only had him here for a good four weeks [this summer]. But he’s just a guy who keeps getting better. We’re expecting a lot out of Jake. He’s primarily going to play the 3 for us. But at times we go small he might play the 4. It depends on how much he can absorb. But he’s a good player, good defender and we can use him to score in a variety of ways – shooting the 3, mid-range game. There are a lot of different ways he can score for us. He’s a fun guy to coach.

Charles Mitchell is the next guy you landed. He seems to have the body to play right away. Is that the plan?

Charles had a great summer. He had to change his body a little bit. He made tremendous strides doing that. Charles is a guy I think was underrated coming out of high school. He can score left or right around the basket. He has a great feel for the game [and is a] great passer. I think when he gets into shape, he has a chance to really be a heck of a college player for us here at Maryland. He’s a guy we’re counting on. We didn’t sign anybody to sit on the bench. We signed guys who can help us and play right away. We think Charles can help in a variety of ways. He has really improved his shot, he can step out a little bit at the 4. He’s really good off the dribble and is a really good passer. He’s got a lot in his game that has prepared him for an early shot to play at this level.

It took awhile for high-majors to catch on to Sam Cassell Jr., but you were in relatively early and never stopped pursuing him, even past the fall signing period. What made you so sure about him as a college player, and what spot do you see him at?

He knows how to play. You can’t teach that. He’s got great feel. Obviously, he can really shoot it. He was one of the best shooters in the country coming out. And then he also has great feel. He’s a competitor. He hasn’t been asked to really defend at that level. He’s going to have to defend. It’s something you coach. You can’t teach the other part. You can try to teach someone how to play basketball as best you can, but some guys just have a feel, and he does. I liked him from Day 1. I loved his moxie and his confidence. Plus, he’s a local kid, has good size, can shoot it, loves basketball. I just thought he could be a great piece for what we’re trying to do. He had a really good summer. He’s trying to play the point. He’s probably more of a 2 right now, but in our offense, all our guys get the chance to come off ball screens and make plays for us. Everybody’s kind of the same in the end. But we recruited Sam to really help us this year.

You’re bringing in two transfers, one who can play in Logan Aronhalt and one who will sit a year in Evan Smotrycz. Talk about what you like in those two.

Logan was just sitting there, and we got down on numbers. You just didn’t have enough bodies when Pe’Shon [Howard] went down. You hope he comes back healthy. But Logan’s a guy who scored 1,100 points at Albany and can shoot the ball. The post game is pretty good with Alex [Len] and Charles and James [Padgett] and Shaq. We needed to put some shooters around them. And Logan’s got game experience. For such a young team, bringing a guy in who has graduated from college, played four years, he brings a little maturity and really helps the young guys. I’m excited about Logan and his ability to help us win games this year.

Evan was a no-brainer as a skilled big guy. That’s hard to find. He had a great summer for us. We told Evan, this is not an off year for him. He has to change his body and become a better athlete. We need him to be a leader and we need him to be the best player on the second team in practice to make us better. So there’s a lot riding on him this year. The reason he transferred, what he told me, is that he wants to become a better basketball player. It’s not going to be a year off for him. Hopefully this year he’ll improve as much or more than anybody on our team and be ready to step in the following year.

For 2013, you can’t comment on specific recruits, obviously, but how do you handle being involved in one of the most high-profile recruitments in the country, but also recruiting a couple somewhat less-regarded prospects at the same positions in the same class?

Well, it stinks. You hate when things get so public with recruiting. I always try to keep it as quiet as I can with who we offer. But that’s impossible at Maryland. You can’t do that. Too many people care [and the guys we recruit] are too high-profile. There’s too much pressure on everybody – the kids and the coaches – when it becomes so public. You just do your job. If you’ve learned anything about me this year, [it’s that] I don’t read anything. I’ll get on the internet to see what the kids are saying sometimes, but the guys we’re recruiting usually say the same things. I try not to even read that. Sometimes they might be talking to a guy from another school and make that guy feel good about that school. Kids aren’t dumb. You really want to get it from the horse’s mouth. You just balance and do your job. It’s going to work out. We’re working to paint a picture in recruiting of how they’re going to fit in and how much work they have to do to get us there. They either buy in or they don’t. You win some and you lose some. That’s the way recruiting goes. You try not to get too high or too low. That’s the key.

How do you think this 2013 class is shaping up?

Well, we’d love to have it done. I’d love to have all our commitments, but you don’t have a lot of work to do with this class. We’ve decided that we’re going to do very little in the early signing period. It’s still a big piece, but we’re only trying to sign one or two. It’s really difficult to do. You can get too selective and you try not to do that. You try to pick out guys who can help us and see what happens. We won’t know until May how the ’13 class is going to turn out and what we’re going to end up with. We’ll do late recruiting, I’m sure. It never stops. But we’ve had a plan. Unfortunately we put so much time into ’12, it felt like we were a little behind for ’13. But we’ve been able to get ahead for ’14 and ’15, which is good. But ’13 is a difficult class for us. We’ve worked hard and we’ll see what happens.

Who do you see stepping up to make up for Terrell Stoglin’s scoring production?

I think the whole team will. I think Nick [Faust] likes to shoot, and he’s going to score. He’s got to figure out different ways to score. Hopefully he’ll be more of an offensive rebounder this year, and those buckets are easier to get. He’ll get to the foul line more, too. I think Alex is much improved [and] James Padgett is much improved. All the guys we signed are capable of scoring the basketball. I think there will be nights we need them to score. Last year we gave the ball to Terrell and he made buckets, so we’ll see. It’ll be by committee and [we’ll be] much more balanced. We’ll obviously share the ball a lot better than we did last year and make for a better offensive team. 

What’s a reasonable expectation for this team?

We haven’t really talked about that yet. We’ll see how much we’ve improved. We have some good players, more depth, and knock on wood we don’t have injuries. I think we can afford injuries this year much better than we could last year. But we’ll see. The kids coming in are confident and had a good summer. We want to be the best team we can be. It’s cliché’, but we just don’t know. I expect us to be a better team than last year. Last year we got a lot out of them, got a little tired at the end after Pe’Shon got hurt. But we did some nice things. If this team stays healthy, the expectation is for us to be a better basketball team.



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