The first few days of preseason practice for the Maryland men’s basketball team this week have been a seamless transition from the early-summer workouts and three-game tour to Italy last month.
With perhaps the most athletic and potentially the deepest team he’s coached in his eight seasons in College Park, Mark Turgeon can see the Terps running and pressing more than any team since he arrived.
The trip overseas was illuminating to a coach who’s been criticized at times for not changing a style that was successful at his previous stops and resulted in three straight NCAA tournament appearances before last season.
The combination of a disappointing, injury-marred 19-13 season a year ago and the additions of six freshmen to this year’s roster has made Turgeon willing to try different things in his 21st season as a Division I head coach.
It started when Maryland played with a 24-second shot clock in Italy.
“We really enjoyed playing at a faster pace,” Turgeon said on a conference call Friday. “I think the players enjoyed it. I think the coaches enjoyed it.
“I felt like it was the best thing for this team. Are we going to be a pressing team? Yeah, at times. This is the most depth we’ve had since the Sweet 16 team [in 2015-16], and that team was a little limited on the perimeter after losing Dion Wiley.”
The style of play used in their three victories overseas continued when the Terps officially started preseason workouts earlier this week. They have until Nov. 6, when the regular season begins against Delaware, to refine it.
Turgeon said there also has to be a balance, particularly when Big Ten play begins in early December.
“The first couple of days of practice, you can tell this is the way this team likes to play,” Turgeon said. “You know when you get into league play, you’ve got to be able to be good in the half court.
“You’ve got to be able to play in half-court games if you want to advance in the [NCAA] tournament. We’ve got to do both. We are fast and we have some great speed.”
Turgeon’s teams have rarely pressed — usually just when they need to make up double-digit deficits quickly — largely because they’ve lacked depth, length and athleticism. This year’s team, despite its relative youth, should have all those qualities.
There are proven on-the-ball pests in guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph), shot blockers in big men Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) and a slew of quick, long-armed defenders.
“[I] hope to press a little bit if we can become good at that,” Turgeon said. “They’ll dictate that. If the players are enjoying it and they’re good at it, we’ll do it more. If they’re not and we’re struggling … We tried to press with last year’s team and we couldn’t do it. We haven’t got to that point in practice yet. But we will soon.”
The biggest challenge is integrating the largest group of freshmen Turgeon has added at Maryland.
Already considered his best recruiting class in the spring — ranked No. 7 nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten, led by Smith and wing Aaron Wiggins — Maryland added fast-rising three-star prospect Ricky Lindo Jr. this past summer.
The still-growing 6-foot-8 forward from Washington signed right before the Terps left for Italy and joined the team after it returned. Word about Lindo’s play spread to Turgeon quickly when the team started playing pick-up games at Xfinity Center.
“The team kept coming in to me and kept bragging about Ricky, about the way he played,” Turgeon said. “When we did do individual work, we played a lot of one-on-one and I was really impressed defensively.
“He’s a very good shot blocker, which I wasn’t anticipating with his reach, his timing. On-the-ball shot blocker, I’ve been really impressed with that. He really rebounds at a high rate. … He gives us an ability at [6-8] to be another perimeter player.”
In summing up Lindo’s potential, Turgeon said, “I think he’s going to get better and better as practice goes on.”
The same could be said about the Terps as a whole.
Despite the departures of five players — the biggest loss being do-everything guard Kevin Huerter, who left after his sophomore year and was drafted in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks — Maryland seems poised for a turnaround.
It is reminiscent of 2014-15, when five players with remaining eligibility transferred after a disappointing 17-15 record in Maryland’s final season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Despite the exodus, the Terps went on to go 28-7 in their first Big Ten season.
“I think we have seven or eight starters on this team, some are better than others,” Turgeon said. “I think it’s going to allow me be deep. I remember our 28-win team. Certain nights certain guys weren’t playing well, but we were able to plug guys in.
“I think that’s going to be the case with this team. I think we have enough weapons where we can plug guys in. We’re not relying on the same four guys to play great on game night every time. That’s a good luxury for a coach.”
NOTE: Redshirt senior forward Ivan Bender, who missed more than half of last season after tearing his meniscus, this week practiced for the first time since undergoing surgery in December. “It was great to have Ivan back,” Turgeon said. “Ivan’s really a smart player. He gives us depth inside. He’s great for the young guys to watch. His communication and … his understanding of the game. … Obviously it’s been a while [since he’s played]. He’s a little bit out of shape, so we have about six weeks to get him ready.”