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Terps' Kevin Huerter, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery go way back

COLLEGE PARK — Big Ten road games have often been mini family reunions for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.

Freshman wing Kevin Huerter will have his own reunion of sorts Thursday night when the No. 25 Terps play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

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Huerter grew up around the Siena College program when Fran McCaffery -- now at Iowa -- coached at the upstate New York school. Huerter's father, Tom, played at Siena in the 1980s and served as a radio and television analyst for the Saints for several years.

"I'm still good friends with his son [Connor, currently a high schoo senior and a top-100 ranked player]," Huerter said of McCaffery. "We went to every game, road games and everything. I have an older brother, [Thomas Jr.], and he has a younger brother, Patrick, and we went to everything together."

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When McCaffery's Siena team made the NCAA tournament three straight years from 2008-10, the Huerter boys and McCaffery boys stayed together at the team hotel. They also served as ball boys for the team.

Rarely do college basketball teams drop out of the Top 25 after victories, yet that is what happened to Maryland after it needed a second-half comeback to beat American in the season opener. A little more than two months later, the Terps (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten) are again ranked 25th, as they were going into the season, and seem like a different team heading into Thursday's game at Iowa (11-8, 3-3).

Given that both Huerter brothers are playing Division I – Thomas Jr. is at Siena – and Connor is expected to play major college basketball, possibly at Iowa, longtime Siena sports information director Mike Demos said Wednesday, "We had an All-American team of ball boys."

When it came time to recruiting Kevin Huerter, McCaffery was certainly interested.

"His pitch was easy: 'Obviously we're really close, I know your game, I'd love for you to come here,'" Huerter said Tuesday. "Honestly, it was a distance thing, and he knew that. I told him, 'Honestly, it's going to be hard for family to get out there for every single game, and I want them to, and he said, 'I understand.' It was no hard feelings."

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Huerter and his family came to Iowa City for an exhibition game before his junior year in high school. Tom Huerter said that his son had decided a few months before that he wanted to stay on the East Coast to play college basketball after he went to the LeBron James skills camp in Los Angeles that summer.

The Maryland men's basketball team has climbed into the Top 25 in both the Associated Press and the USA Today coaches polls released Monday.

"It took a long time for us to get home, there was a delay of some sort that sealed the deal," recalled Tom Huerter, who will make the trip to Iowa City with eight friends for Thursday's game.

Huerter will likely be matched up for much of the game with senior guard Peter Jok, whose 21.9 season scoring average leads all Big Ten players.

The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Jok might be the most difficult matchup of the season for Huerter, who is coming off holding Illinois' Malcolm Hill to two points in the second half of Maryland's 62-56 win Saturday in Champaign.

"Jok's really good," Huerter said Wednesday after practice.  "He does a lot of different things; he's not like a lot of guys I've played against already. He'll pose a lot of challenges. With him too, with a lot of players, it's a lot of good team defense in ball screens. It's going to take everyone to stop him."

Huerter is quietly gaining his own reputation as one of the more versatile young players in the Big Ten. Aside from taking on the opponent's best wing or small forward every night, the 6-7, 190-pound Huerter is averaging 8.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and nearly two assists a game as a full-time starter for the Terps.

"It gets easier as the games go on," Huerter said. "You start to find out which plays work, what type of actions start to work. Obviously with each practice you find guys start to trust each other more. I'm still trying to find my role, and hopefully will keep improving as the games go on."

McCaffery has certainly noticed.

"He's a very good player," McCaffery said during a news conference in Iowa City on Tuesday. "The thing that has been impressive to anybody that's watched them this year is that he doesn't rush. He plays at his pace, and he really understands how to play, fits very well with their team. But he's the kind of player that would fit with any team. If you wanted him to shoot more and score more, he would do that. If you wanted him to play the point, he could do that. He's a versatile player.

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