Terps beat writer Don Markus talks about former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon becoming the latest player to transfer to Maryland. Where does this team rank in Terps history? (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The addition of Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon to a Maryland team many have already picked to win the Big Ten Conference next season and be a legitimate contender for a national championship gives the Terps the most talent fans in College Park have probably seen since the 1970s.
Former Maryland star Len Elmore, a longtime college basketball television analyst, said Monday that the team Mark Turgeon will take into the 2015-16 season is better "on paper" than the one Gary Williams led to two straight Final Fours and a national title in 2002.
The 2001-2002 championship team was led by senior guard Juan Dixon, who was drafted 17th overall by the Washington Wizards and had three other players drafted – sophomore forward Chris Wilcox, who was taken No. 8 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, as well as senior center Lonny Baxter and junior guard Steve Blake, who were second-round picks.
Elmore said the current talent level is more reminiscent of the 1973-74 Maryland team that he played on with John Lucas and Tom McMillen.
Just as next season's team will be run by a sophomore point guard coming off a sensational freshman year in Melo Trimble, the 1973-74 team was run by sophomore Lucas, who two years later was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. Aside from Elmore and McMillen up front, the 1973-74 team also had sophomore guard Mo Howard.
All five starters and six total players form that team were eventually drafted, though Howard was a second-round pick who played briefly in the NBA and neither Owen Brown -- who died from a heart attack in 1976 -- nor Tom Roy played in the NBA after being drafted in the third round. Both Elmore and McMillen were first-round draft choices.
Next season's team has five projected starters who could be drafted after next season – Trimble, incoming freshman center Diamond Stone, junior transfer Robert Carter, as well as seniors Sulaimon and Jake Layman. Stone is being mentioned as a lottery pick and Trimble and Layman are considered first-round draft choices.
"They're covered inside and out, they've got a dynamic point guard, we'll see how Diamond Stone steps up and Carter has already proven himself [for two seasons at Georgia Tech]," Elmore said. "We'll see how they are inside, rebounding and covering the glass. On paper, they're more talented [than 2001-02].
"That's not a knock on Gary, per se. Obviously people can interpret that in him taking less talent and doing more with it. In the end, it's a pretty good team on paper that could be comparable to us [in 1973-74]. For the top six or seven players, we were probably as good as anybody in the country. We didn't have the overall depth, we didn't go 10 deep, but you didn't need 10.
That team finished 23-5, including nine straight wins to end the regular season and two more over Duke and North Carolina before losing to No. 1 North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final in Greensboro, N.C. The 103-100 overtime loss to the eventual national champions led to the NCAA expanding the men's basketball tournament to include more than conference champions.
The Terps, ranked fourth in the country at the time, turned down an invitation to the NIT.
Turgeon doesn't want to hear about how good the Terps are expected to be next season or the fact that they might have five draft picks in the starting lineup. (A number of players coming off the bench, in particular freshman center Michal Cekovsky and freshman wing Jared Nickens, are also on the radar of several NBA scouts.)
"We haven't even played a game," Turgeon said after Sulaimon's decision to transfer to Maryland was announced.
Elmore said that, like a lot of talented teams, the biggest issue for the Terps next season could be chemistry. After suffering through a 17-15 season two years ago because the team lacked chemistry and collective basketball intelligence, last season's 28-7 team received high marks for both.
While Turgeon doesn't think Sulaimon's arrival will disrupt that, Elmore sounded a bit more skeptical.
"His freshman year he was brilliant, then his numbers just dwindled year after year," Elmore said. "My concern is, 'Will he incorporate himself into the Maryland system and be consumed by the team system as opposed to play for himself?' There were times at Duke when it looked like he was going more for himself than than he was playing within a team structure."
Elmore also didn't like the body language Sulaimon showed the past two seasons as his role was diminished with the arrival of freshman star Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood two years ago as well as freshman stars Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow last season.
"Emotionally, his sophomore year and last year prior to the dismissal, every time he met some minor adversity, a bad call or a missed shot, his emotions were so obvious," Elmore said of Sulaimon. "He really got upset about a lot of things and when he got taken out of a game, he would go sit on the bench and pout."
Elmore said he is curious at how good a player Sulaimon can be in College Park.
"He started out as a quality player and person, obviously Duke would never have recruited him," Elmore said. "Guys going early to the NBA and leaving him behind might have frustrated him to the point that he played out of character. Hopefully this will be a situation where he has taken on that humility and will be a team player more than anything else. He is a terrific player. He can shoot the 3, he can put the ball on the floor really well, he will dig in and play defense ... there's no arguing about his talent."