COLLEGE PARK — Kyle Tarp puts Joshua Tomaic in select company when it comes to comparing the work ethic of the redshirt freshman forward to that of other Maryland players who have trained under the pleasantly maniacal director of performance for the men's basketball team.
“He’s up there with Rob Carter and Dez [Wells],” Tarp said Saturday. “That type of guy. Not the same personality, but in terms of grinding and showing up. It’s easy to show up one day, but consistently, that’s a challenge.”
The foundation of Tomaic’s career as a Terp came last season when the 6-foot-9 freshman redshirted after coming from the Canary Islands. Weighing 209 pounds when he arrived, Tomaic now checks in at 235.
There’s another aspect of Tomaic’s trajectory that makes Tarp — as well as Maryland coach Mark Turgeon — smile. On a team consistently lacking in athletic big men, Tomaic has improved dramatically in that regard.
Tomaic started behind most athletes Tarp has worked with at Maryland.
“I’ll tell this to his face, [he’s] one of the least-gifted athletes I’ve had walk through the door; the fact that people wouldn’t recognize that is a testament to how he works,” Tarp said. “[He was] not very vertical, not very strong [last year]. Now he’s one of my soldiers that I can count on.”
Tomaic might also be someone Turgeon can eventually rely on.
At least until freshman center Bruno Fernando returns from a sprained right ankle and sophomore forward Justin Jackson recovers from a lingering illness, Tomaic should be part of Turgeon’s rotation of big men. Because of his versatility, Tomaic can play behind either 7-foot-1 senior center Michal Cekovsky or Jackson.
With Jackson sitting out Saturday, and redshirt junior forward Ivan Bender as well as graduate transfer center Sean Obi falling quickly into foul trouble in an 82-60 win over Gardner-Webb, Tomaic got into a game earlier than his previous six appearances.
Tomaic also wound up playing longer and being more productive. In 16 minutes, Tomaic scored nine points on 3-for-5 shooting, including a corner 3-pointer and a wraparound reverse layup, to go along with six rebounds and a blocked shot.
“Even when Bruno was healthy, people told me to be ready, my day is going to come,” Tomaic said after the game. “I try to do everything to help the team. If Coach calls my name, I’m going to try to be ready, try to be prepared, help the team wherever I can. Team first.”
Given Maryland’s next opponent, Tomaic could see plenty of playing time Tuesday. The Terps will face Division III Catholic at Xfinity Center, their last game before taking a nine-day break for final exams. Jackson is expected back, while Fernando continues to rehabilitate.
As Carter did while sitting out after transferring from Georgia Tech, Tomaic spent a lot of late nights last season working out after his teammates were done playing. He has carried that tradition into this season, when he played just 17 minutes in Maryland’s first 10 games.
“I consider myself a hard worker. My schedule is basically [like] everyone else. I just like to put the work in after games or after practice,” Tomaic said.
Tomaic came to Maryland from the Canary Islands well-versed in working hard.
“I always had to work for something. ... At the [Canaris Basketball] Academy, there was a lot of competition,” he said. “When I first came in, there’s a lot of older people, really skilled people, most of the academy is playing pro, overseas. ...
“I was able to learn from them. What I learned the most is that they came up before practice, after practice and they had results. You could really see how they developed because they did extra. That was my motto.”
The 11-year-old academy, located not far from where Tomaic grew up, has produced more than 60 Division I players, including Cekovsky. Tomaic, who enrolled in the academy shortly after Cekovsky left for Maryland, recalls what his coach, Rob Orellana, preached.
“My high school coach was always talking about, 'You got to be a gym rat, you got to live in the gym if you want to get somewhere,’” Tomaic recalled of Orellana, a former Division I assistant at Cal-Fullerton, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Francis (Pa.).
Turgeon has come to appreciate a player who despite speaking four languages — aside from English and his native Spanish, Tomaic also speaks Croatian and German — typically says very little and has never complained about not playing.
“The thing I’m most proud of Josh is, where he was last year at this time and where he is today,” Turgeon said after Saturday’s game. “He’s our hardest worker. ...The good thing is Josh is just a freshman, he’s getting better and he is versatile and he’s going to help our program a lot in the future. The immediate future, I don’t know yet, but we’ll see.”
Though Turgeon never officially announced that Tomaic was redshirting last season, Tomaic understood what was happening.
“When I came in, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Tomaic said. “I didn’t expect even to be on the court. When I redshirted, it wasn’t a surprise or nothing like that. I was ready for it. … I’m actually thankful for that. I had a big opportunity of learning the game.”
Making Spain’s U-19 team last summer at the FIBA World Cup in Egypt — teammate Kevin Huerter played for the United States — was also part of Tomaic’s growth. Playing a little over 21 minutes a game, Tomaic averaged 6.6 points, five rebounds and 1.3 assists.
“I think it helped me with my confidence, bringing back my confidence,” he said. “It’s a great experience, because you play against other international players, a really high level. I think I [can] build up from that as well.”
Tomaic has a message for those trying to follow him from the Canary Islands, an archipelago that is part of Spain and is close to Morocco.
“Kids over there, they’re always trying to ask me stuff,” Tomaic said. “I always tell them the same thing. Just because you’re from a little place that nobody knows where it is on the map, just keep working. Not just for basketball, but for life.”