The many superstitions of Mark Turgeon as Maryland’s men’s basketball coach often bleed into his roles as father and husband.
As Turgeon and his wife, Ann, settled into their seats for a recent Catholic University men’s basketball game to watch Will, the oldest of their three children, one of Turgeon’s new idiosyncrasies was on display.
“He plays better when I sit on the end,” Turgeon told a reporter who had joined the family at the Raymond A. DuFour Athletic Center.
For the next two hours, from his aisle seat two rows up from the court, Turgeon did his best not to coach the Division III team.
As for coaching his son, that was another story.
“I try not to, but I can’t help myself,” Turgeon said as he watched Catholic’s 77-54 win over Gettysburg on Dec. 16. “I usually coach Will, and I’ll make comments [to the team] like, ‘Keep guarding,’ things like that. I try to stay out of it as best I can.”
It’s a lot easier than it was a dozen or so years ago, when Will was in first grade and his father was in what would be his final season at Wichita State. Coming off a Sweet 16 appearance in 2005-06, Turgeon coached Will’s team in practice, not in games.
“I would only let them scrimmage for five minutes at the end of practice,” Turgeon recalled. “Will said I was the worst coach he ever had.”
Turgeon also doesn’t want to act the part of the typical sports parent.
“I try not to ref,” he said.
It’s tough for a man who spends most of his waking hours — especially in the heart of the season — consumed by the fortunes (and misfortunes) of his own team, but the 53-year-old Turgeon does his best.
If anything, the burgeoning college career of 19-year-old Will has provided a pleasant diversion for his parents, one that is easy to indulge given the 30-minute drive from their Montgomery County home to Catholic’s Northeast Washington campus.
“Today I’m not nervous because he’s comfortable,” Turgeon said. “If he’s comfortable with his coaches and his teammates and his role, I don’t worry about it. … That’s a good feeling for me.”
The Turgeons also try not to be the scourge of college freshmen everywhere — helicopter parents.
“I love having him at home. I think Ann does, too,” Turgeon said. “We give him his space. We only come here for games or if he needs something. I think he likes [being close]. He can get food from his mom when he needs it. He can get home if he has to.”
Which is why, the day before this game, Will took an Uber home so he could pick up his girlfriend, a freshman at Tulane, at the airport. When he returned that night, hungry, he opened the refrigerator.
“He said, ‘I can’t believe how much food is in here,’ ” Ann said with a laugh.
More home games
Both Turgeon and his wife, a former high school player herself who met her future husband when she served as the student manager at Kansas, figured their eldest child would go away to college as many of his friends did.
A trip to Boston helped Will make his decision. There to visit two colleges — Babson and Tufts — Turgeon had his son talk with Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who played his college basketball at Division III DePauw University in his native Indiana.
“It was really cool. [Stevens] said, ‘When you play DIII, you can still win a national championship. If you play low-level DI, going to the tournament is your national championship,’ ” Ann said. “I think that really resonated with him.”
Turgeon had a similar choice coming out of high school in Topeka, Kan. Two of his best friends had stayed home to play at Washburn, a powerhouse in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (an NCAA alternative) that won the 1987 NAIA national championship.
Instead, Turgeon went to Kansas with a late one-year scholarship offer from new coach Larry Brown, and wound up starting at point guard in his first game as a freshman (against the University of Houston’s famed Phi Slama Jama) as well as becoming the first player in school history to play on four NCAA tournament teams.
“I always wanted to play at the highest level. I thought I was good enough,” Turgeon said. “I wouldn’t be the coach at Maryland if I went to Washburn. [Kansas coach] Larry Brown changed my life.”
Turgeon has often said in recent years that parenting changed his coaching style, especially in the language he uses to talk to his players.
“I still get angry. I’m still very demanding. I’m sure kids still get mad at me, maybe not a lot,” Turgeon said.
Ann gets emotional when talking about the relationship between her oldest son and her husband.
In Turgeon’s first season at Maryland, his wife had to leave College Park during a 71-44 home loss to Virginia after comments from some fans upset Will. His siblings, now 15-year-old Ella and 13-year-old Leo, were too young to notice.
“He has always been so entrenched in it, and so loyal and so in love with all of ours players since the third grade,” Ann said of Will. “Unfortunately as he’s gotten old, you hear the negative, social media and all that. He handles it so well.”
Starting when their oldest child was in middle school, the Turgeons told him to stay away from engaging with frustrated Maryland fans who used the internet message boards to vent about his father.
“He carries the weight on his shoulders that not a lot of kids his age have even thought about,” Ann said. “He’s made really good choices. He doesn’t engage. You could really get into some [nasty] interactions with people.”
For all the happy childhood memories Will has from rooting for the Terps — including dressing up like the Turgeonites, premature white stripe of hair and all — there were more than a few times when things got uncomfortable.
“Some fans don’t know I’m sitting right there. It’s hard for me,” Will said. “You’ll always see me watching the games from the tunnel or from his office because it’s different when it’s your dad out there, not just your favorite team.
“It’s personal. It’s your life. But I’m confident with him, I’m confident with his team, especially this year. I’ll stick with them, take a couple of shots. Hopefully we can go far this year.”
It happened again after Saturday’s 78-74 home loss to Seton Hall. As the elder Turgeon was leaving the court, a fan sitting above the entrance to the court yelled derisively at the coach. Will Turgeon, who came to the game with his family, seethed in silence.
“It’s a tough part of the business,” Ann Turgeon said Sunday.
No talk about being a Terp
As with many Division I coaches whose sons are approaching college, there was some discussion from fans about whether Will would be a Terp, most likely as a walk-on who would’ve been more a cheerleader than even a role player.
The subject was never raised by Turgeon himself.
“We never discussed it, we never talked about,” Turgeon said. “If he would’ve asked me, if it was something he wanted, we would have explored it. He’s playing as a freshman, at a level that’s really good for him. He’s really happy.”
Ann said she stayed out of the way.
“When it comes to basketball stuff, I leave it up to Mark and Will,” she said. “I actually think Will is very aware of what he wants, how he wants it. I would just support whatever Will wants to do. I’ve already done it. I did my college experience.
“I can’t push Will to walk on at Maryland or play at Catholic, because you’ve got to live it every day. And Will is thoughtful. He thinks through everything and makes really good choices. I think he’s surprised how much he loves it.”
Will never broached the idea with his father, though the notion of suiting up for the Terps certainly crossed his mind.
“It was always looming in the family. No one ever brought it up,” Will said. “It’s been a dream of mine to play for my dad. He coached me once, in YMCA in first grade, and I didn’t like it very much. I thought he was always yelling at me.
“I wish I had an opportunity to play for him. I really like it here. I really do. Thankfully he’s right down the street and he’s like my coach. He comes to every game. Tells me stuff after the game. But it was definitely something that I thought about.”
A series of events led Will to a program with connections to Maryland, starting with longtime Catholic coach Steve Howes first seeing him play on the junior varsity at nearby Gonzaga College High.
Will was mostly a practice player in his two years on the varsity at the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse, including when the team won the prestigious league’s championship as a junior.
After playing well during the preseason before his senior year, a chance to be in the rotation as a senior was derailed by mononucleosis, which caused him to miss “10 to 15 games,” he said.
Still, the competition helped him improve and get him ready for college, even for the Division III level. A 6-foot-3, 185-pound shooting guard, Will has averaged close to five points and three rebounds in 20 minutes a game.
“Going up against DI guys in practice is something not a lot of kids get to do, and I’m thankful for that,” said Will, who has started five of Catholic’s first nine games. “It got me better every day and prepared me for this.”
Howes, who played for former Maryland assistant Mike Lonergan at Catholic, had first heard about Will from Gonzaga freshman coach Billy Wilson, a former Catholic standout.
During the summer before Will’s senior year, Howes saw him play at a Maryland team camp.
“It backed up what everybody’s said. I just knew he would be the perfect guy for us,” Howes said. “Fits in like so many other guys we’ve had. He has a high IQ, shoots it well. Maybe not the quickest but knows how to position himself defensively. He’s doing a great job. … We knew that we were going to get a gem that not many people had seen.”
Howes acknowledged that Will plays like a coach’s son — “moves the ball, creates for others, understands time and score” — and said he had a good experience with Billy Donovan Jr., who played two years at Catholic before joining his father at Florida.
“I’ve been down that road before,” Howes said.
Seeing the sport differently
Watching his son play has been something of a revelation for the way Turgeon looks at college basketball. One of the games he attended was against Marymount. In a 70-67 loss for Catholic, Marymount freshman guard LaDarius McCord scored 26 points.
“I swear he could have been in our rotation,” Turgeon said of McCord. “That night he looked like it. Lefty guard. He was good. There’s a lot of good players, a lot of good coaches.”
Asked whether watching Division III basketball — which helped launch the career of former Michigan standout Duncan Robinson, now on a two-way contract with the Miami Heat — has changed his recruiting philosophy, Turgeon said it had changed already.
“I don’t think it’s going to show at Maryland for a couple of years, but we’re going to try to sign more four-year guys, just looking at the success everybody has when they get older,” Turgeon said. “We still want really good players, but we want them around.”
Turgeon is looking to play the role of father and Catholic University fan for the next four years.
“He loves his family, but sometimes you want to get away,” Turgeon said of Will. “In the end, it was his decision. He wanted to commit to Catholic for almost a month before I let him do it because I wanted to make sure this is what he wanted to do. He wanted to stay home.
“We’re thrilled. We’ve probably seen him 10 to 12 times this semester where some families never see their kids. That’s great stuff. Most importantly, he really loves the campus. He’s got a great roommate, suitemates, loves his teammates. He’s really happy with all parts of it. There’s just a lot of things going [well].”