Maryland assistant men's basketball coach Dustin Clark has grown close to freshman center Michal Cekovsky since he started recruiting the 7-footer from Slovakia at the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands last winter.
So it was only natural that Clark took Cekovsky with him to Thanksgiving dinner Thursday at the new Montgomery County home Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and his family moved into this week.
It was the first Thanksgiving dinner Cekovsky ever experienced, Clark said.
"You don't think about that. Thanksgiving is such an American holiday, and it's probably my favorite holiday," Clark said. "Checko didn't quite understand my excitement for it."
Clark said that Cekovsky asked him what the holiday meant.
"I told him it's a time to think about the things you're thankful for in your life and you eat turkey, then you take a nap and then you eat some more turkey," Clark said. "When you explain like that, it's really simplistic and when you say it like that, you understand why it's a puzzling holiday to kids who aren't from here. It was fun. I think he enjoyed the holiday."
In some ways, Clark looks at Thanksgiving much the same way he looks at his burgeoning star center, whose play this week at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic gave Maryland fans hope that the Terps might have found a big man to help them make the successful transition to the Big Ten.
"It's very pure, there's no commercialism, it's not complicated, there's no expectation," Clark said of Thanksgiving, though he might have been talking about Cekovsky. "You spend time with family and friends and you watch some NFL football and now some college basketball and you enjoy a good meal."
Clark said that Cekovsky, who might not have ever eaten so much as a turkey sandwich before he arrived in College Park this summer, had "more than one helping once we sat down and then I packed him a nice little to-go platter of leftovers. He liked the turkey, but he loved the dressings."
He also loved the red velvet cake made by Turgeon's daughter, Ella. So did Clark.
Clark said the season Cekovsky spent playing for Rob Orellana, a former Division I assistant coach, in the Canary Islands has helped his transition on and off the court at Maryland.
"Rob does a great job, he's been a college coach, he knows what it takes to be successful, he has seen where the European kids are with the developmental process and he knows what life is going to be like ahead for these kids and to be as prepared for this as possible," Clark said. "You never know how quickly they're going to feel comfortable."
Turgeon said shortly after Cekovsky arrived in mid-June that the 20-year-old's biggest adjustment might come when he plays in front of big crowds, especially on the road. While Monday's win over Arizona State was more of a neutral setting, Tuesday's 73-64 victory over No. 13 Iowa State was more like a road game.
Along with the three other Maryland freshmen – in particular Jared Nickens, who came off the bench to score 15 points against the Cyclones -- as well as tournament MVP Melo Trimble, Cekovsky showed how he can impact a game even at this stage of his career. He finished with eight rebounds, four points and one blocked shot.
"I was proud of all the young guys, they showed on that stage and in that arena, just the poise we played with was phenomenal," Clark said. "I asked Checko today, 'Was that the most people you ever played in front of before?' and he said it was."
In getting to know Cekovsky on his trips to the Canary Islands last winter, Clark said he saw a young player who viewed the success of former Maryland center Alex Len and wanted to follow the same blueprint. Two years older than Len was when he first arrived from Ukraine, Cekovsky is starting to blossom.
"I don't know if I'm surprised, but I do know that he wants to be great, he's talented and he's extremely coachable," Clark said. "I think when you have that desire and you have that talent and coachability to go with it, I think that's what you need to be successful. The only other thing in that recipe is time."