As the NBA Finals were about to begin, Anthony Cowan invited his Maryland men's basketball teammates to his family's home in Bowie to watch Game 2 between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
"I knew the team was close, but I wanted us to be as close as possible," Cowan recalled during his recent visit to New York as part of Big Ten Media Day. "Me doing those little things, I do that all the time. That helps us build chemistry with each other, which I think is very important. Whatever I can do to make sure our team stays together."
There were other signs throughout the summer and early fall. The pickup games Cowan organized weren't the in-your-face, no autopsy-no foul sessions that Dez Wells used to put together. Nor were they the quieter, yet still competitive, offseason workouts that Melo Trimble led last year.
I was a lot more quiet [last season], didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, really.
Maryland guard Anthony Cowan
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Now, as the Terps embark on the 2017-18 season with an exhibition game Thursday night against Division III Randolph-Macon, Cowan is clearly one of the leaders of the team. Much of the early-season spotlight will fall on Cowan because of the position he plays.
While Cowan started every game at point guard for a 24-9 team as a freshman, his role as a floor leader will be much more defined this season in the absence of Trimble, who decided to forgo his senior year after leading Maryland to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and an overall 79-24 record.
"I definitely feel the game is so much easier. The game is a lot slower for me now," Cowan said. "Last year there were so many things going through my head being a freshman coming in. … I think I can focus so much better now."
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said it won't be difficult for Cowan, as well as fellow sophomores Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson, to fill the leadership void left by Trimble and center Damonte Dodd, who graduated.
"We have a lot of guys that want to do the right thing, are very coachable and are good teammates," Turgeon said. "It should be an easy team to lead. I do think what Kevin and Anthony have been through their whole lives being the position they played on their teams, I do think it's going to be a natural progression."
"Is he a little more vocal — yes," Turgeon said in New York. "Ant knows he still has a long ways to go with that. Just his understanding of the system, his understanding of what his head coach wants, it's night and day. Last year he was just worrying about himself and trying to survive. Now it's like he gets it. He's so much further along. He's improved a lot. A lot of aspects of his game have gotten better. He's been fun to watch in practice."
Though he had more than adequate statistics for a freshman with averages of 10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in a little under 30 minutes a game, Cowan needs to become more of a consistent threat on 3-pointers (32.1 percent) and a stronger, more secure ballhandler (2.3 turnovers a game).
Turgeon believes Cowan considers himself more of a scoring point guard than a pass-first point guard, "but just finding a happy medium and keeping everyone involved is what we talked about. I think the next step is just becoming the most complete player he can become."
Cowan said he more resembles the player who led St. John's College High to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title as a senior, outplaying future NBA No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz in the championship game at American University's Bender Arena. Cowan also beat out Fultz for The Washington Post's High School Player of the Year.
"That's the Ant that doesn't want to hold anything back," Cowan said. "I was a lot more quiet [last season], didn't want to step on anyone's toes, really. This year, that's what I'm bringing back. In high school, you can ask anyone, I was always like that. Just make sure everyone competed at the highest level they could. That's what Coach Turgeon wants."
A year ago, it appeared he and the other freshmen deferred at times to Trimble.
"I would say that's accurate," Cowan said. "Sometimes the confidence level for me would go down a little bit. I had a little slump, a little three- or four-game slump [late in the season] when I didn't play as well as I wanted to. But then I just had to look back and know that's not me, and get back to my regular self."
Perhaps the change of jersey number back to the No. 1 he wore at St. John's will help. Cowan, who wore 0 as a freshman, got his old jersey number back when Jaylen Brantley transferred to Massachusetts for his redshirt senior year.
When a reporter joked that the old uniform number will make him feel more comfortable, Cowan flashed a smile.
"Get back to my old ways," Cowan said. "Just being confident and always have fun, just not always taking it so serious, that basketball is supposed to be a game of fun."
Cowan knows that many believe the Terps will take a step backward without Trimble. Maryland was voted fifth in the Big Ten's preseason media poll, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Terps as a bubble team in his first NCAA tournament preseason bracket.
"I feel it's the same thing every year almost," Cowan said. "Last year, they said because Rasheed [Sulaimon] left and everyone else left [after the 2015-16 season], now it's going to be the same because Melo left. But there's nothing we can do about that.
"Last year we had the best start [20-2] in school history. I'm not saying that's going to happen this year. What I'm saying is that we've just got to put that behind us and make sure we do what we can do, what we can control."
Cowan is grateful to have spent his freshman year sharing the backcourt with Trimble. The two became close, and Cowan was a guest speaker at a two-day camp Trimble held in Northern Virginia this summer.
Asked what he learned the most from Trimble, Cowan said, "Just always keeping his composure, on the court and off the court."
Cowan is excited about becoming more of a vocal, emotional leader.
"Just playing with fire," Cowan said. "That's the only way I know how to play. Sometimes last year I felt I wasn't like that. I didn't like it at all. That's one thing I'm going to try to key on this year, make sure I don't lose myself in terms of taking shots I know I can make and saying stuff that will make my teammates better."