Terps focus on film to promote improvement

One reason for the Terps freshmen's rapid development is their focus on film.

Sitting in the Maryland basketball team lounge at the Xfinity Center one afternoon last week, freshman wing Kevin Huerter was acing his latest quiz.

Two dozen times in a 20-minute session, assistant coach Dustin Clark slowed the tape of the team's victory at Illinois on a laptop screen, showing plays Huerter made and didn't make against the Fighting Illini.

Clark asked questions about the plays. Huerter answered everything correctly. But one.

"Good shot or bad shot?" Clark asked after showing Huerter a missed 3-pointer.

"I took a little too long, so ultimately bad shot," Huerter said.

"I thought it was a good shot," Clark said. "Could you have fired it a little bit quicker? Yeah. You do a great job of setting [the defender] up, so you get yourself open. ...The way you shoot the ball, absolutely it was a good shot. Bad result, good shot."

If there's been a reason for Maryland surprising the skeptics who believed this might be a rebuilding year for the Terps, it's been the rapid development of Huerter and fellow freshmen Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson.

In a season when the Terps have been hampered by injuries to centers Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky, and have seen streaky shooting from junior point guard Melo Trimble, the three freshmen starters have all contributed to No. 22 Maryland (17-2, 5-1) starting fast in the Big Ten. The Terps host Rutgers (12-8, 1-6) on Tuesday.

While the Terps' performance on the court has been impressive, their ability to correct the mistakes they make in previous games derives in this lounge.

The film study sessions Maryland's assistant coaches have with the players — either one-on-one or in all in small group — have become as big a part of the pre-game preparation as the practices.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who has had his assistants watch tape with individual players dating back to his years at Wichita State, credits both his staff and his players for making what can be a tedious process work to their benefit. Turgeon mostly leaves that part of the preparation to his assistants.

"I think my assistants do a tremendous job of preparing us for every game [with] scouting, but also breaking down game film and watching it with each player, and reiterating what I want out of them, decision-making and stuff," Turgeon said. "Our guys are into it, across the board. You've got to have a team that wants to prepare to be good."

Cowan said that what he saw on tape of Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans played an important role in Maryland's 71-70 victory over the Cowboys in early December. Evans missed two shots in the closing seconds, the first on a similar play Cowan had already watched on tape.

"He always likes to come off a screen and then make a quick spin back," Cowan recalled. "He tried to do that the last play, and that kind of stayed in my head."

In Maryland's only Big Ten loss this season, the Terps blew a 13-point lead in the last 8 ½ minutes to Nebraska at home on New Year's Day. The Terps couldn't execute against a zone defense the Cornhuskers had barely used before.

When Michigan went zone in Maryland's next game, the Terps dismantled it in one play, and the Wolverines quickly went back to a man-to-man. It helped that Turgeon and his players had watched Michigan use a zone on nine different plays, according to Mark Bialkoski, who is in his second season as the team's video coordinator.

"It just gives Coach an idea, percentage-wise of how often they're going to run it," Bialkoski said. "Here's a snapshot of what they might they do, and you get that information on your fingertips. They [the Maryland players] have a better feel of not just 'Who am I guarding,' but the [plays] they're going to run and the tendencies that might tip it off. Hopefully it gives the players another advantage on the court."

It also helps that the three freshmen have what are considered high basketball IQs. Turgeon and his assistants have said a lot of that has to do with the foundation they were given when they first started playing organized basketball or in high school.

"All three of the freshmen won at a really high level," Clark said. "I said to the team after [a recent] practice, 'We've got a group of guys that are caught up in winning.' The freshmen have made winning plays. Part of that is that they've been taught well and winning has been a habit for them before they got here.

"The second thing is that the culture here, our veterans, whether they're on the court late in games or not, they've done an unbelievable job imparting the principles that we play by and the standards that we live by in our locker room. They've also learned through experience, the close games we've been through."

When the team started practicing last fall, Huerter said it mostly learned the offensive plays.

"We have a full video playbook that we all had on our iPads, Mark sending us home saying, 'Make sure you know this play, this play, this play because we're going to run it,'" Huerter said. "Now it's a lot of defensive stuff, looking at the little things that are going to win games."

Going into film sessions, both with individual coaches and with the rest of the team, Huerter said he knows what's coming: a replay of the plays he didn't make.

"There's definitely stuff I remember from the game, like 'That's going to be on film tomorrow'," Huerter said after his session with Clark last week. "He'll pick out certain plays in the game and before he even gets there, I know it's coming."

Huerter, who was known mostly as a 3-point shooter when he was named New York State's Mr. Basketball as a senior at Shenendehowa High in Clifton Park, N.Y., has developed a reputation as a defensive stopper at Maryland.

In the team's past two games, Huerter helped contain Illinois' Malcolm Hill (5-for-14 shooting for 11 points, two in the second half) and Iowa's Peter Jok (4-of-12 for 14 points, two in the second half).

"We watch a lot of defensive film," Huerter said. "A lot of it is positioning. A lot of it, honestly, you watch film and it makes defense easier. Instead of chasing a guy around the court, you watch film and see that you can be in help [defense], so you don't have to chase them."

It has been helpful for more than just the freshmen. Forward L.G. Gill, who played his first three years at Duquesne, said that he watches more tape now than he did before, particularly in one-on-one sessions. In a season when Gill has been forced to play backup center because of injuries to the other frontcourt players, Gill said he has benefited from those sessions.

"I try to take advantage of it, with Coach Clark or Coach Bino [Ranson] so I'm not lost on offense, because the whole system is new to me," Gill said. "I can focus on a player I might be guarding or on a play I might have messed up in practice."

Assistant coach Cliff Warren, who was a head coach at Jacksonville University for nine years, likens the film studies to being another college class. Just as one class will not lead to a degree, watching film "is part of the educational process, the learning process, and helps with the learning curve" of a team in a season.

"If you missed your last four shots, and I have that on video tape, I can show you and you can see, 'Here's why I missed,' and you can start to correct yourself," Warren said. "A lot of times players think they're doing it right. When they see themselves, they're like, 'Wow, my knees weren't bent.' It's a teaching tool."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
41°