Anthony Cowan Jr. needs to lead young Maryland men's basketball team with body (language) and mind

As a former college point guard, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon has spent a lot of time watching tape before, during and after each of his first seven seasons with whoever was manning the position.

In his sessions with Anthony Cowan Jr. since the Terps finished a disappointing 19-13 season in March, Turgeon has spent much of their time together talking about the junior point guard’s body language.

Along with all the positive things Cowan brought to the team his first two years — namely his scoring and his defense — he at times sent the wrong message to his teammates, his coaches and referees when things didn’t go well.

“We’ve showed him some different things. We’ve talked about it a lot,” Turgeon said last week on Media Day. “He has changed. Will he have [bad] body language when he goes in and thinks he was fouled and didn’t get the call or whatever?

“I’m sure we’ll see it, but he’s a totally different kid. I think he likes the new Anthony. Man, is he playing well. But practice is scripted. No one is in the stands. We’re not on the road. I think it’s a comfort level he has with his teammates and the respect they have for him.”

Fans can get a glimpse of the new Cowan — and a roster with many new faces — when Maryland plays its lone preseason game Tuesday night at home against Lynn University, a Division II program in Boca Raton, Fla. The regular season begins next Tuesday against Delaware.

Cowan thinks the change in his on-court persona will be noticeable.

“I think it’s becoming more [obvious] now. I’ve been working on it so hard that it’s just becoming natural for me to have better body language,” Cowan said in a telephone interview Monday. “It helps me, it helps our team and when they see me like that it makes them be like that as well.”

Cowan said it’s something he has been reminded about since he started playing organized basketball when he was 9 years old. At the time, his father, Anthony Sr., was his coach and “was always calling me out for it,” Cowan Jr. said.

“I definitely remember him always telling me to change my body language. I really didn’t know what it meant. When I got through high school to college, I had coaches telling me and I knew it was something I needed to change. …

“I am a quiet person. I think it took me so long to change it because I didn’t realize what I was doing, I was just being myself. I wasn’t being like an angry-type person at all. It was just who I was. I think that was one of the biggest issues that it was like that.”

Cowan is coming off a season in which he put up career highs for nearly every statistical category — from a team high in points (16.2) and assists (5.1) to rebounds (4.9) and steals (1.5) — while being named third-team All-Big Ten as well as to the league’s all-defensive team.

But he is coming off a season when his late-game decision-making, as well as the emotions he displayed when he wasn‘t having plays called for him, or getting passes from his teammates or calls from officials, brought his ability to be a leader into question.

Cowan acknowledged that he struggled at times last season in his role as both a point guard and scorer. While he has improved in that regard since his freshman year, it is still a balance he is trying to find.

“Just being able to read different plays just being able to make the best decisions,” he said. “I think my decision-making has grown a lot in terms of knowing when there’s an open lane or knowing there’s a man open. I think that’s what I got better at.

“As a point guard, I think the hardest thing first is obviously leading your team to win. Always looked at the best points [by] how much they won and not look at individual numbers. For me it’s always been a process learning what decisions to make at certain times.”

After playing a complementary role two years ago with fellow freshmen Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson to then-junior star Melo Trimble, Cowan shared the role of scorer and leader last season mostly with Huerter, especially after Jackson tore his labrum and underwent season-ending surgery in January.

Cowan will certainly have help this season, perhaps more than he did in 2017-18. Along with sophomore center Bruno Fernando, who made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team a year ago and a freshman class led by McDonald’s All American Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), Cowan has more options to look for than he did last year.

“Every particular night it’s different, whatever the team needs," he said. “Some nights scoring is easy and maybe I’ll try to get easy buckets, Maybe somebody is on a big roll and hitting a lot of shots and I need to try getting them the ball. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure that we win.”

Similar to the role Trimble played when Cowan was a freshman, Cowan could spend more time off the ball as a scorer with the addition of freshman point guard Eric Ayala.

“It puts me to the 2 [guard], which mainly means just score a little bit more,” Cowan said.

Cowan resists the suggestion that this is his team as much as it was Trimble’s team two years ago.

“All my years here, I’ve just been trying to focus on winning,” Cowan said. “That’s what I’m going to do this year, just try to help the team as much as I can. It’s not really just my team. It obviously takes a collective effort to win. It’s more about it being our team.”

What hasn’t changed is the chip on Cowan’s bony shoulders. Just as he was when he led St. John’s to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title past a DeMatha team led by future No. 1 NBA pick Markelle Fultz, Cowan is hoping to do the same with the Terps this season.

Cowan is oblivious to the fact that Maryland was picked to finish in the middle of the 14-team Big Ten in an unofficial media poll that recently came out.

“I don’t know where we were ranked, but I’m guessing we weren’t ranked too high,” Cowan said. “That’s been like ever since I’ve here. We just to come out with a hungry mentality and try to kill that noise.”

Turgeon, who played point guard for some pretty good teams at Kansas in the 1980s, likes how Cowan has evolved.

“I’m really proud of Anthony, because Anthony by nature is a quiet kid,” Turgeon said. “He had a great freshman and sophomore year. He’s going to put up incredible numbers. What he’s done preparing for Italy [for a summer tour] and the start of the season, I think you’ll appreciate how far he’s come as a leader and a passer and a facilitator but also as a dynamic scorer for us. A lot of positives.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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