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Competitiveness of Maryland basketball's scout team helps prepare starters

Dustin Clark (right), one of the University of Maryland basketball coaches, gives direction to scout team member Varun Ram during the scout team practice. In advance of every game, Maryland's scout team learns the other team's plays to replicate them at practice for those who will play in the game.
Dustin Clark (right), one of the University of Maryland basketball coaches, gives direction to scout team member Varun Ram during the scout team practice. In advance of every game, Maryland's scout team learns the other team's plays to replicate them at practice for those who will play in the game. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

COLLEGE PARK — Andrew Terrell, a walk-on for the Maryland men's basketball team, was talking about a play he had made for the scout team in practice Wednesday when star sophomore guard Melo Trimble walked by.

"Today, Melo turned his head wrong and I got him on a back door," Terrell said with a laugh, looking in Trimble's direction.

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Trimble, silent as usual, smiled as he walked by.

With the sixth-ranked Terps having won nine of their first 10 games going into Saturday's matchup with Princeton (6-2) at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, some of the credit for the early-season success goes to how the scout team has helped prepare the players in Mark Turgeon's regular rotation during practice.

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The competitiveness of the scout team in practice often factors into what happens in games.

"We go as hard as anybody would go in a regular game," said Terrell, a freshman from Indianapolis, who said beating Trimble for a layup was "a good feeling."

"He's obviously one of the best players in the country," he said. "But nobody's really held on a pedestal here, we're all really good friends, we all really like each other. We all find enjoyment out of each other's success. We're all trying to go out there, have fun, prove something and get it done the best way we can."

Because of the number of newcomers to this year's scout team, Turgeon admitted that he was concerned after the first couple of games, evidenced by some of team's slow starts. As the scout team has "really progressed and gotten better," according to Turgeon, so have the players in the regular rotation.

"I know one of the ways I can really help this team is to get them prepared," said Varun Ram, who has become one of Maryland's most respected players because of the way he has defended Trimble in practice the past two seasons. "I've been here so long, I've probably run 80-plus scouts. I think I've been able to get better every time I've done a scout."

Imitating the Tigers

If there was ever an opponent this season that Maryland's scout team could effectively mimic, it's Princeton. The Tigers essentially start four guards along with 6-10 center Pete Miller. This year's scout team of Terps is made up of four guards and 6-9 freshman forward Ivan Bender.

A year ago, the presence of players such as 6-9 Robert Carter, who was sitting out after transferring from Georgia Tech, as well as 6-8 senior Jon Graham and at times 7-1 freshman center Michal Cekovsky might have given the Terps a bigger frontline on their scout team than some Division I teams had in their starting lineup.

Graham, who has since graduated, said in the middle of last season that Carter's size and talent helped prepare the Terps for their opponents, particularly in the Big Ten, and contributed to a 28-7 Maryland team being one of the biggest surprises in the country.

"If we would ever get stuck last year and it would get down in the shot clock to five seconds or whatever, we'd toss it in to Rob and get out of his way," said Trevor Anzmann, a former high school player in Westminster who became a walk-on last season. "He was probably one of the most talented scout team players around."

In turn, Carter used his court time on the scout team to expand his back-to-the-basket game and become a more versatile offensive player.

"You get to work on different things, you get to work on different offenses, see what other people run," Carter said after practice Thursday. "For me, it was a lot of fun because I just love learning the game. Learning different systems, things like that, was a good experience for me."

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Lots of studying

Assistant coach Dustin Clark estimates that by the end of the season, the scout team will be responsible for learning about 450 "actions," or plays or concepts, from opposing teams on top of those the Terps run. After tapes are shown to the team in film study, Turgeon will give the team a handful of the most-often repeated plays to prepare against on the court in practice.

"Today we probably walked through six actions, and tomorrow coach will probably want to see three or four more, and then there are baseline out-of-bounds [plays]," Clark said Thursday. "When it's all said or done, there's about 10 to 15."

About 30 minutes before Maryland was scheduled to begin Thursday, Clark gathered the scout team members for a walk-through of the "actions" that the Terps could expect to see from the Princeton offense that was introduced at the Ivy League school by legendary Tigers coach and Naismith Hall of Famer Pete Carril in the late 1960s.

The offense, based more on reading defenses than calling plays, is similar to what Georgetown — coached by former Princeton player and assistant coach John Thompson III — ran against Maryland in their mid-November matchup at Xfinity Center.

"Certainly because we played Georgetown earlier, guys are more familiar with the Princeton concepts," Clark said. "But anytime you play a Princeton team, it's challenging because it's such an unorthodox style of play. The thing that makes this more challenging is they play four guards, not only is it the concepts but it's the personnel."

Ram, whom Turgeon said "definitely sets the tone" for the scout team at practice, often gets to play the lead role if the opposing team's star is a guard, such as trying to imitate Indiana's Yogi Ferrell last season or North Carolina's Marcus Paige this month.

"The most fun is when you have a point guard who shoots a lot; whoever's running the scout team says you have to be aggressive and keep shooting," Ram said.

Still, the most fun is when the scout team members get into real games — and score. One of the most celebrated baskets of the season for Maryland came when the scout team was inserted late into a 23-point rout of Rhode Island in the Cancun Challenge and Terrell threw in a 25-footer to beat the shot clock.

"In rhythm, came off the hand great, felt pure," Terrell recalled.

But it was also fun taking a perfect pass from Bender and beating Trimble on a back door play Wednesday.

"That's how they're getting better, they measure it on getting stops from us," Terrell said. "If we're not doing our job and we're making it easy for them, then they're not growing to their potential. We have a vital role out there."

Ram, who came back as a graduate student to play another year mostly as a scout team member, admitted that "you get a little satisfaction" at beating one of the stars.

"Back-dooring is fun. It's probably one of my favorite things to do, because you know coach is going to get mad at whoever you back door," Ram said. "You're making them better. Every time you go to practice, they'll be more prepared, more ready for the game."

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Especially for a game such as the one the Terps will play Saturday.

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