COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Mark Turgeon would rather meet mentor Roy Williams at a restaurant than on the basketball court.
Turgeon was an assistant to Williams at Kansas for four seasons, from 1988-92. Now in charge of rebuilding the program at Maryland, Turgeon will go up against Williams for the first time Saturday when the Terrapins (13-8, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) host No. 5 North Carolina (19-3, 6-1).
Turgeon isn’t looking forward to it.
“You don’t ever want to play against friends. It’s no fun,” Turgeon said Friday. “But once the game starts, you don’t even think about his coaching the other team. You just coach it.”
Turgeon has plenty of other things to think about beyond that student-teacher thing. For one thing, the Tar Heels are tied for first place in the conference and have won four straight and 13 of 14. Then there’s standout forward Harrison Barnes, who ranks third in the ACC at 17.7 points per game.
“I’m not worried about coaching against Coach Williams,” Turgeon said. “It’s more about Harrison Barnes and all those studs they run out there on the floor.”
Barnes, however, sprained his left ankle against Wake Forest on Tuesday night. He is questionable for Saturday’s game after being limited in practice Friday afternoon.
Before Friday’s practice, Williams said of Barnes, “I won’t know everything until after practice today, and I shouldn’t say ‘everything,’ because if it swells up again after practice, I won’t know that until late after we get up to Maryland.”
This much Williams does know: Hiring Turgeon back in 1988 was as logical as turning off the lights before bedtime.
“I thought it would be great for our program, and he was phenomenal,” Williams said. “I’m telling you, it was one of the luckiest and best decisions that I had ever made in my life.”
Turgeon played for Larry Brown at Kansas and served under Brown for one season before being hired by Williams. Part of Turgeon’s responsibility was overseeing the junior varsity, and early on it did not go well.
“I lost a game I didn’t think we should. I was young and took everything hard at that time,” Turgeon recalled. “I remember calling Coach Williams after the game and saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be any good at this. I’m not you and I’m not Larry Brown.’
“Right then he said, ‘That’s your problem. You’ve got to be Mark Turgeon. That’s always been good enough.’ So, I think from that conversation on I’ve always tried to be me, and take what great coaches taught me.”
Turgeon went on hold the top job at Jacksonville State, Wichita State and Texas A&M before coming to Maryland to replace Gary Williams, who retired in May after 22 seasons.
It’s been a bumpy ride for Turgeon at Maryland, but he’s done a very good job with a roster that includes only two seniors. The Terrapins have forged a winning record and stand in the middle of the pack in the ACC, but there’s still one thing missing — a victory that would attract some national attention.
Senior guard Sean Mosley, who sits 12 points short of 1,000 for his career, would be delighted to achieve the personal milestone Saturday. But that’s secondary to his real goal.
“If it happens it happens, if it don’t, it don’t,” he said. “I just want to give my best effort that I can and try to get a signature win at home and try to improve our chances to make the (NCAA) tournament.”
Roy Williams knows better than to think that Turgeon won’t have the Terps ready to go, even though Maryland is still recovering from a double-overtime loss at Miami on Wednesday.
“He’s put together a really good team,” Roy Williams said of his former assistant. “He’s got them in the middle of the league right now, they just need to get on a run. I just hope they don’t start it with us.”
Although the Terrapins are coming off a loss, they have reason to feel good about their performance at Miami. After Turgeon was ejected in the second half for vehemently arguing a call, Maryland overcame a 16-point deficit to force overtime. Turgeon got updates in the locker room through a phone call with his wife.
“It was another step for us,” Turgeon said. “It was a lot of energy and effort put in. I could tell my guys were proud about what they did. They got some confidence out of it. That’s huge for our program, where we are right now.”
A win over North Carolina would mean even more.
And guess what? Turgeon doesn’t want to face Williams, and the feeling is mutual.
“He’s part family. I really am going to have some bad thoughts about competing against him, there’s no question,” said Williams, who fell back into mentor mode during a chat with Turgeon after that Miami game.
“I was calling him because I was concerned about him,” Williams said. “I didn’t want him beating himself up over the game the other night when he had the technicals and he was tossed and they lose in overtime, because we as coaches have a tendency to think we are more important than we really are.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)