COLLEGE PARK — As a disappointing season gave way to a tumultuous offseason earlier this year, Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon waited anxiously for the start of preseason practice.
With an overhauled roster and a new offense, the Terps are scheduled to begin practice Friday as they get ready for their first season in the Big Ten Conference. Maryland, which finished 17-15 in its Atlantic Coast Conference farewell and failed for the fourth straight year to make the NCAA tournament, opens the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 against Wagner.
"I think every year, the first few weeks [of practice] are critical, developing the habits you need to have," Turgeon said Wednesday.
After spending most of the team's mandatory summer workouts concentrating on a new motion offense that Turgeon hopes will take advantage of the team's outside shooters — maybe the Terps' best since he took over in 2011 — Maryland will use the early weeks of fall practice to concentrate on the defensive end.
Having had to watch five scholarship players with remaining eligibility transfer this spring, then having to dismiss 7-foot-1 freshman center Trayvon Reed after his July 30 arrest and charged with theft, resisting arrest and second-degree assault outside an off-campus convenience store, Turgeon will be counting heavily on a senior class led by 6-5 shooting guard Dez Wells.
The team's leading scorer in each of his first two seasons at Maryland, Wells is expected to be one of the top players in the Big Ten. But he should have help from fellow seniors Evan Smotrycz, Jon Graham (Calvert Hall) and transfer Richaud Pack in guiding a team that welcomed a recruiting class that, with Reed, was considered a top-10 group.
"It's huge," Turgeon said of his team's large senior class. "We haven't had it. Sean Mosley started the first year as a senior [in 2011-12], and a bunch of seniors came off the bench. Then we had Padge [James Padgett] and Logan [Aronhalt] coming off the bench [in 2012-13], and last year, we had no seniors on scholarship. It's big for us."
Wells said his role isn't much different than when he transferred from Xavier two years ago.
"I don't take that as any more added pressure, because I felt like I've been the leader of the team since I was a sophomore," Wells said. "It's just another year for me to prove my worth to the program, to my team, and to do something extraordinary this year."
After going through summer workouts with the incoming freshmen, led by McDonald's All-America point guard Melo Trimble and 7-foot Slovakian forward Michal Cekovsky, a number of returning players have said the team's work ethic, attitude and collective basketball IQ have improved over the past couple of years.
Graham, one of the team's hardest workers since transferring last season from Penn State, said the foundation for a successful Big Ten debut began in the eight one-hour, on-court sessions the Terps coaches were allowed to conduct with their team.
"The work we've done over the summer has really helped," Graham said Wednesday. "Any practice is critical leading up to the season. It's going to take a lot of great focus and camaraderie. If we practice hard and listen to everything Coach is telling us to do, we'll be fine."