In the week after the Maryland men’s basketball team’s season-ending loss to Alabama in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, it was quiet in College Park, even with speculation rising regarding coach Mark Turgeon’s contract status.
With just two years remaining on the deal, there was no public acknowledgment from athletic director Damon Evans on the status of an extension. But behind the scenes, the two sides have been reportedly finalizing an extension. The development surfaced Friday, and just one day later, the team secured commitments from former Georgetown center Qudus Wahab and former Rhode Island point guard Daron “Fatts” Russell, two experienced transfers who immediately shore up the weakest spots of a roster that at times struggled with the size and depth of the Big Ten Conference.
How do the transfers fit?
In Wahab, the Terps get the post presence they severely lacked this past season. At 6 feet 11 and 237 pounds, the sophomore is coming off a season in which he averaged 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The Nigeria native who played high school ball at Flint Hill in Virginia also received high praise from Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing, who said Wahab has the potential to be the best big man in the country.
Wahab showed signs of that development late in the season, named to the All-Big East Tournament team as the Hoyas won the conference title and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.
Wahab is more Bruno Fernando than Jalen Smith when comparing him with recent Terps frontcourt players; in two seasons at Georgetown, Wahab has not attempted a 3-pointer. But his presence on the roster should allow sophomore forward Donta Scott to move back to power forward after battling with frontcourt players bigger than him throughout the season.
With Russell, a two-time All-Atlantic 10 and All-Defensive Team selection, Maryland gets a point guard who can make plays for himself and others. In four seasons at Rhode Island, the 5-11 Russell averaged 13.4 points, 3.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds.
He isn’t the most efficient scorer, shooting 35.6% from the field for his career, but he is a crafty facilitator who can also push the tempo for a Terps team that, according to KenPom, played at the second-slowest pace since Turgeon arrived at College Park in 2011.
Inserting Russell into the lineup most impacts junior guard Eric Ayala and sophomore guard Hakim Hart, who split point-guard duties this past season. Turgeon acknowledged that Hart was playing out of position and Russell’s ability to handle the ball should allow Hart to move off the ball and receive more catch-and-shoot opportunities. It also allows Ayala to return to a combo guard role and occasionally lead the offense, like he did playing two seasons next to Anthony Cowan Jr.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA gave all athletes an extra year of eligibility, providing the seniors on the team — Darryl Morsell and Galin Smith — the opportunity to return for another season. Neither player would count against the Terps’ 13 allotted scholarships for the 2021 season.
While the Maryland women’s basketball team announced Saturday that all four of its seniors would use the extra year of eligibility, Morsell announced Monday that he will declare for the NBA draft while putting his name in the transfer portal, but did not rule out a return to the Terps next season.
When Morsell was asked about his plans after the team’s season-ending loss to Alabama, he said he would first focus on getting surgery for a fractured labrum in his shoulder that he played through.
While the possible return of Smith and/or Morsell, a four-year starter and the reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year, would likely be welcomed, it would create a bit of a logjam for minutes, given the addition of Wahab and Russell, returning players and incoming freshmen Julian Reese (St. Frances) and Ike Cornish. But it would be a good problem to have after Turgeon’s rotation was limited to eight players and bench production was sporadic.
As of now, all of Maryland’s 13 allotted scholarships for the 2021 season are filled. However, there could be more roster movement in the weeks and months to come, whether that be from more transfers or early departures for the NBA. There have been reports that Ayala and junior guard Aaron Wiggins, both of whom received All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades, might enter their names into the NBA draft to see what their professional prospects look like.
Wiggins seems to have the greater chance of leaving early; the 6-6 wing entered as a freshman with NBA buzz and had his best stretch of the season over the final month. In the Terps’ season-ending loss to Alabama, he had a career-high 27 points on 11-for-17 shooting from the field.
The Athletic’s NBA Draft Big Board lists Wiggins as the 93rd-ranked prospect, far outside the range of the 60 picks in the draft. However, Wiggins and Ayala share the same birthday, and at 22, both could feel the urge to get a start on their professional careers.
The NBA recently announced that its draft will be held July 29, and the league’s scouting combine, the most important avenue for prospects to receive feedback, will take place June 21-27. The deadline for an early entree player — one who is not automatically eligible for the draft — to put their name in for consideration is May 30 and the final date to withdraw from the draft is July 19.
This sets up a long waiting period in which possibly one or two roster spots hang in the balance during a time when there will be myriad transfers finding new homes. Maryland has been on both sides of the process; in 2018, Fernando returned to school for his sophomore season after being told by NBA executives and scouts that he was likely a mid-to-late second-round pick. In that same offseason, Kevin Huerter kept his name in the draft after performing well at the combine and rose up boards to be considered a first-round selection.
Should one or both of Wiggins and Ayala decide to leave early, Turgeon has done well to replenish the roster in adding Wahab and Russell. If either or both stay, Turgeon will have potentially his deepest collection of talent at Maryland.
In a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun on Saturday, Russell spoke about his decision to join the Terps and said he wanted to “be a part of something special” at Maryland. If the right developments shake out over the coming months, such talk could be routine around College Park by fall.