Mark Turgeon’s first season at Maryland likely ended with an 85-69 loss to top-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Friday in Atlanta. Despite the Terps losing four of their last five games and with seemingly little chance for an NIT bid, Turgeon’s inaugural season in College Park left something for fans that Randy Edsall’s debut in College Park did not.
It wasn’t the fact that a team that played its first and last month of the season without Pe’Shon Howard, Turgeon’s only true point guard, proved to be a tough out at home against both North Carolina and Duke. Nor was it the impressive performance the Terps gave Thursday in an opening round demolition of Wake Forest.
What left many Maryland fans I know counting the days until next season begins– unlike football fans who are still trying to figure out whether or not to dump or renew their tickets – was a recruiting class that got another boost this week and the manner in which the Terps seem to respond Turgeon’s blunt and often blistering critiques.
In more than 30 years of covering college basketball, I have never been around a coach who is more honest than and as likeable as Turgeon. It didn’t surprise me to see Terrell Stoglin heed Turgeon’s threats to shoot less, trust his teammates more and make believe he cared a little about playing defense. Nor did it shock me to see Turgeon relent a little, knowing that he needed the ACC’s leading scorer to be competitive.
What was most impressive about the job Turgeon did could be seen in how he molded the Terps into a team and yet managed to allow his players grow individually.
A case in point was freshman guard Nick Faust, who Turgeon taught to play the game differently than he had ever played before. At 6-6 and 175 pounds, Faust became Turgeon’s defensive stopper. Faust went from being primarily a wild perimeter shooter to someone whose drives and dunks became a SportsCenter staple. It helped Faust be named to the ACC’s all-freshman team this week.
At the start of the season, Faust looked as if he had been one of the most over-hyped players to come to Maryland in recent history. He seemed to be out of shape, took ill-advised and balloon jump shots and wore a permanent deer-in-headlights look. Turgeon defended Faust, saying the former City star was playing out of position at point in place of the injured Howard.
Since Howard was lost for the season with a serious knee injury two days before the Duke game on Feb. 11, Faust has been Maryland’s most consistent player - even more dynamic than Stoglin at time. Faust averaged nearly 13.5 points and five rebounds over the last nine games and despite a bushel of turnovers – 33, many unforced – Faust showed what all the excitement was in Baltimore the past couple of years.
Certainly there were some disappointments, some things that didn’t go as well as Turgeon planned or hoped.
Turgeon didn’t seem to mesh with Stoglin during stretches of the season, particularly the first month. But the only player who Turgeon hasn't seemed to reach was Ashton Pankey. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the redshirt freshman forward leave, given the fact that 6-10, 270-pound Shaquille Cleare will be taking up a majority of the inside minutes alongside Alex Len, James Padgett and the newly signed Charles Mitchell, a 6-8, 250-pound forward from Marietta, Ga. who tweeted Wednesday that he had committed to Maryland.
While Len did not turn out to be Maryland’s best player, as Turgeon predicted when the 7-1 freshman from the Ukraine looked so impressive in practice and some of the early games after sitting out his 10-game NCAA suspension, he had enough flashes (the last coming Thursday against Wake Forest, but not Friday against the Tar Heels) for Turgeon to see what Roy Williams saw in Tyler Zeller as a freshman.
The arrival of Cleare and Mitchell, as well as 6-8 shooter Jake Layman, will certainly help Len. It will certainly mean a different kind of role next season for the hard-working Padgett, who won a few games by being gritty and not pretty for the Terps. Pankey had his moments Friday, but how many more teases of talent will Turgeon want to see?
What also was different about Turgeon than Edsall was the way he didn’t throw his predecessor under the proverbial bus. It might have to do with the fact that Gary Williams is still revered by Maryland fans for winning a national championship and respected by school administrators for helping raise millions of dollars. (It also might have something to do with the fact that Williams is still employed by the university.)
I am sure there were times this season when Turgeon, behind closed doors, questioned what Williams saw in many of the current Terps, Stoglin included. But he never once criticized Williams for the way he recruited as Edsall did in talking about the lack of discipline under Ralph Friedgen – or saying that Maryland had to recruit better athletes to compete with North Carolina and Duke.
Regardless of what happened in Atlanta , and regardless of whether the Terps get an NIT bid, Turgeon’s first season in College Park should be declared as much a success as Edsall’s was an unmitigated disaster. The winning record is only a small part of it. From the beginning, this season was about keeping the hope for a brighter future alive.
The past few months have done nothing to diminish that flame.