COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland coach Mark Turgeon hopes youthful exuberance will be more important than experience and senior leadership in his effort to get the Terrapins back into the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland has one senior on scholarship, reserve forward Ivan Bender, and point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. is the lone scholarship junior. So, with a roster that includes six freshmen and four sophomores, Turgeon isn’t quite sure what to expect in his 21st season as a head coach.
“It may be the youngest team I’ve coached,” Turgeon said. “Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re not talented. I like the mix.”
Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson left early to head to the NBA after the Terps finished 19-13 last season, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
“I knew pretty early that even when we were healthy, we weren’t playing great last year,” Turgeon acknowledged.
Turgeon reloaded with a solid freshman class, led by 6-foot-10 forward Jalen Smith, who averaged 17.9 points, nine rebounds and three blocks at Mount Saint Joseph High in Baltimore.
Smith hasn’t received as much acclaim as many other freshmen around the country, but that could change quickly.
“I think once he puts up his first double-double — which could happen in the first night we’ll play — the national attention will come,” Turgeon said.
The experience on this squad comes from Cowan (the team’s leading scorer last season), 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Bruno Fernando, Bender and sophomore guard Darryl Morsell.
Maryland opens play on Nov. 6 against Delaware. That launches a stretch seven straight home games, interrupted by a trip to nearby Navy for the Veteran’s Classic on Nov. 9.
Some other things to know about the Terrapins:
THE ULTIMATE GOAL
In six years at Maryland, Turgeon is 157-81, including 46-26 in the Big Ten, with three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Unfortunately, he’s come nowhere close to putting the Terrapins in position to win the national championship.
“I like where our program is, and I hope we can get to the goals I set when I came here,” Turgeon said. “We’ve done a lot nice things but we all know what our ultimate goal is at Maryland and it should be that way every year.”
This marks the 100th season of Maryland basketball, and Turgeon intends to carry on a tradition of excellence.
To honor coach Lefty Driesell, the team ran a mile at midnight at the football stadium before the first practice, a custom started by Driesell in the 1970s.
“This is a great season for us,” Turgeon said. “I’ve said many times that I took this job because of Lefty Driesell — who we honored with the Midnight Mile — and Gary Williams, because of the national championship (in 2002) and the great job he did with the program. We want to honor those things this year. It’s very important that we do that.”
BRUNO SETTLES IN
Fernando lacked experience as a freshman but showed no shortage of emotion. Turgeon is looking for the big man to play better, and at an even keel.
“Bruno’s a player who’s excited,” Turgeon said. “So we’re trying to get him to the point where he knows to dial it down sometimes.”
Fernando said he intends to “play at a good pace and just try to get better at everything I can instead of just trying to rush.”
A team this young is going to take some time to develop, and there is bound to be a rough stretch or two along the way.
“When it does get tough, how are we going to handle it?” Turgeon said. “We have some incredibly tough parts of our schedule throughout the year. How are we going to handle that? An injury or adversity or whatever. Hopefully we can stay healthy, but that’s really going to be the key.”
It’s going to be up to Cowan to distribute the ball, take his shot and perhaps most importantly, provide leadership on and off the court.
Cowan intends to take his lead from former standout guard Melo Trimble.
“He knew how to talk to all of the freshmen,” Cowan said. “That’s just one of the things that I picked up from him. Now that I’m one of the older guys in the group, I’m carrying that over a little bit.”
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