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A year ago, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon resisted playing freshman Joshua Tomaic in a couple of games when injuries depleted the team’s frontcourt.

At the time, Turgeon thought Tomaic was not strong enough or savvy enough to compete in the Big Ten. It didn’t appear things had changed when Tomaic played just 17 minutes in the first 11 games this season.

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But as injuries to began to ravage his team again with season-ending injuries to forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender, Turgeon knew he had little choice but to play the 6-foot-9 forward from the Canary Islands.

The wait has apparently been worth it for both Tomaic and the Terps.

Going into Monday night’s game at Michigan, Tomaic is coming off a pair of encouraging performances. He is suddenly the first big man off the bench behind senior Michal Cekovsky and freshman Bruno Fernando.

Anthony Cowan Jr.'s improvement as a sophomore has him drawing comparisons to former star point guard Melo Trimble.

“I know there was a point where I knew I had to be ready, but I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect that it was going to be like this,” Tomaic said after practice Sunday.

“I think I’ve done a good job approaching it, helping my teammates and satisfying the coaches and stuff. That’s why we practice. I practice to be prepared, but it’s been surprising sometimes.”

In 11 minutes of a 91-73 win over Iowa last Sunday, Tomaic scored six points — on layups or follows, all during the team’s second-half run — and pulled down four rebounds, three on the offensive boards. He didn’t miss a shot.

With Fernando limited in Thursday’s 91-69 loss at Ohio State because of flu-like symptoms, Tomaic scored 11 points in 22 minutes. Both were career highs. He was 3-for-4 from the field, including 1-for-2 on 3-pointers, and 4-for-7 on free throws. He also had four rebounds.

“I just think he feels comfortable and he’s playing aggressive, he’s playing hard, he’s helping us on the boards, which I like,” Turgeon said Sunday. “He’s playing with confidence. And he’s playing pretty smart. When he can make a 3, it really helps us, it stretches the floor.”

After losing to Ohio State with six healthy players and an ill freshman Bruno Fernando, Maryland hopes to use the weekend to recover for its trip to Michigan on Monday.

Tomaic didn’t realize he had played so much against the Buckeyes.

“When I saw I played 22 minutes, it was like, ‘Wow,” he said.”I’m happy for it. I’m thankful for it, but that shows the coaching staff, they actually have confidence in me. I have to show them that they can keep doing that and just bringing stuff to the table.”

It has been a steady progression, albeit with a few expected bumps, for a player who came to Maryland as a project from the Canarias Basketball Academy, the same program where Terps assistant Dustin Clark found Cekovsky five years ago.

“I knew he was a kid who would take some time to be ready to contribute at the highest level for us,” Clark said Sunday. “The redshirt year was great for him. The success of redshirt years is really dependent on the mindset and approach the player takes to it, and he bought in 100 percent to it and really used it to get better.”

Clark said Tomaic has used the time he spent on the scout team to his benefit.

“He literally takes almost every rep in practice. That’s why his conditioning level is so good. You can see him play extended minutes for the first time in his career,” Clark said. “When you are up against the teammates he does in practice and work as hard as he does and you have the mindset of being coachable and wanting to get better, it’s inevitable that you’re going to develop.”

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After getting off to an early seven-point lead, Maryland gets buried by a 22-2 run and loses to Ohio State, 91-69.

Clark said there was noticeable difference when Tomaic started preseason practice this fall.

“The biggest thing that I noticed from year one to year two was how much more athletic he’d become,” Clark said. “Just his reaction time to things and his ability to change directions, get off the floor...He’s always been on the scout team and there’s no subs, so he literally takes every rep in practice, that’s why his conditioning is so good.”

Tomaic can see a difference from earlier this season, when he first gained notice by scoring nine points and pulling down six rebounds in 16 minutes against Gardner-Webb, then following up with seven points and rebounds in 15 minutes against Division III Catholic.

“My confidence has grown. The game is slowing down for me,” Tomaic said Sunday. “I feel comfortable with the guys around [me] and with the coaching staff telling me where to be and how to do it. I feel safe out there.”

Asked what the strength of his game is right now, Tomaic said: “I would say hustling, rebounding, just doing extra plays for the team, setting screens for the guards. Just trying to get Kevin [Huerter] open, get Jared [Nickens] open. Maybe some pick-and-pop options.”

Nearly from the day he arrived, Tomaic gained a reputation as the team’s hardest worker, as much in the training center with Kyle Tarp, the Maryland’s director of basketball performance, as with Turgeon and his assistants on the court.

Despite the graduation of All-Americans Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and the offseason transfer of top freshman Destiny Slocum, little has changed this season for the Maryland women's basketball team.

Tarp has compared Tomaic’s work ethic to those of former Maryland stars Alex Len, Dez Wells and forward Robert Carter Jr., who were known for their borderline maniacal workouts. Though he didn’t have their talent, Tomaic had the same kind of drive.

”It’s not messing around. It’s business, good attention to detail, great effort, and then kind demanding the people around him,” Tarp said Sunday. “That’s how Robert was. Excited to be in the gym, excited to be in the weight room. Dez was like that. … Just embracing the work.”`

Tarp said that because Tomaic arrived in late summer when the preseason workouts were at their most intense, “he was like a fish out of water.” But the work ethic he brought with him from home helped Tomaic adjust quickly.

Unlike other players who might work as hard or have trouble putting on weight, Tomaic has gone from a skinny 210 pounds when he came to Maryland to “around 238,” Tarp said Sunday.

“It went from that guy who was struggling to finish the workouts to the guy that was beating the workouts,” Tarp said. “For him to do it in that short amount of time, I really haven’t had anyone like him. Josh is still the guy who’s knocking down my door.”

Cekovsky, who left the Canarias Basketball Academy as Tomaic, who grew up a couple of hours away, was arriving, saw his “young self” in his teammate when the two first played together at Maryland.

The Terps were 62-3 in Big Ten play since joining the conference in 2015, with their only losses to Ohio State.

“He was skinny. He didn’t speak much English — his was still better than mine. He developed a lot. He changed his body,” Cekovsky said last week. “He understands the game more, he understands the language more, so that helps him too. He’s getting more comfortable every day. I think he’s going to be a great player for us.”

After practice Sunday, Tomaic was the last player to leave the court. As the rest of his teammates went back to the locker room to shower and get ready for a trip to Ann Arbor, Tomaic had a student manager feed him balls for shots.

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At one point, after Tomaic had clanked three straight corner 3-pointers off the rim, he walked away momentarily in disgust, chastising himself. He then went back to the same spot and hit five straight before moving on to the free-throw line.

“I am tough on myself,” he said later. “Some days I hit more; some days I hit less. I do get hard on myself. Coach Dustin tells me sometimes, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself.’ You’re going to make some. You’re going to miss some. You’ve just to keep doing it.”

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