COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The word “rebuilding” doesn’t even begin to describe the Maryland basketball program, which has a new coach and barely a handful of players left from a squad that didn’t even make the NIT last season.
For the first time since 1989, Gary Williams won’t be sweating through his suit in front of the Maryland bench. Williams retired in May after a 22-year run, leaving a tremendous void at a school long considered among the elite in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Not anymore. At least, not this season.
Mark Turgeon took over for Williams after a successful run at Texas A&M. He inherits a team without its best player from last season, center Jordan Williams, who departed early for the NBA.
Maryland will also be without 6-foot-6 Haukur Palsson, who left school to play professionally overseas. Palsson played in 32 games last season and was likely going to be a starter on a team sorely lacking height.
Turgeon has put together a roster than includes a whopping half-dozen walk-ons and only two returning starters from last year — guards Sean Mosley and Terrell Stoglin. The players are working hard, but Turgeon will have to milk every bit of their talent to be competitive in the ACC.
“I knew everything wasn’t going to be perfect, and I’m not naive enough to think that it is going to be perfect,” Turgeon said. “There are a lot of things you have to do your first year, and I think first and foremost what I’ve tried to do is develop relationships with my players to where they trust me and believe in me, so when times get tough we’ll stick together and get it done.”
Maryland is small, inexperienced and lacks depth. This roster can’t even stack up to last year’s team, which went 19-14 overall, 7-9 in the ACC and missed out on postseason play for the first time in 17 years.
Jordan Williams led the Terps in scoring and rebounding in 2010-2011, but instead of getting ready for his junior season, he’s waiting for the NBA to end the lockout so he can get started with the New Jersey Nets.
But Turgeon remains optimistic. His effort to make the Terrapins competitive could depend heavily on whether Alex Len, a 7’1″ Ukrainian center, is deemed eligible to play. Len is academically eligible, but his status is still being determined by the NCAA Clearinghouse, which is reviewing documents that address the player’s amateur status.
Although Len does not speak much English and still has much to learn on the basketball court, his height alone makes him invaluable to Turgeon and the Terps.
“He is extremely skilled and extremely long,” Turgeon said. “I think one of the things that he does well is he blocks shots and plays at a high level on the defensive end. Alex is still getting used to the speed and physicality of the game, but he’s a quick learner and a smart kid. I’m not sure when the light will come on for him, but when it comes on, it will be an instant change.”
Even if Len is cleared, the Terrapins will depend heavily on their guards for points. Mosley, Stoglin and Pe’Shon Howard will see plenty of playing time, perhaps all three at once. Mosley, a senior, will also be counted on for leadership.
“Having guys in the past like Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne, they took it upon themselves to put the team on their shoulders,” Mosley said. “So for me, it’s another step. It’s not a lot of pressure because the guys we have here are definitely talented and can respond to that very well. It’s a matter of me coming out here and making sure the guys are ready each and every night.”
The only other senior beside 5’10″ walk-on guard Jon Dillard is 6-10 junior college transfer Berend Weijs, who totaled only 120 minutes and averaged a mere 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.
The Terrapins can only hope 6’8″ junior forward James Padgett, who has added muscle and weight after averaging 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds in 31 games last season, will take a huge next step.
“I’m excited for an opportunity to prove myself and to make a mark for myself,” Padgett said.
The same can be said for Turgeon and the Terrapins, who face plenty of doubters as they prepare to launch a new era of Maryland basketball.
“At the end of the day, it’s where you finish,” Mosley said. “A lot of teams that are underdogs usually finish on the top, like my freshman and sophomore year. Ever since I’ve been at Maryland, we were always an underdog, but we’ve found some way to get through and use it as motivation to work hard.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)