Sidelined much of last season by foot and knee injuries, Maryland’s presumptive starting point guard Pe’Shon Howard isn’t sure if he’ll be sufficiently healed from his torn ACL to be in the lineup when the Terps take on NCAA champion Kentucky at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 9.
But Howard thinks the big stage and high-profile opponent will be a terrific introduction to the college game for Maryland’s overhauled, freshman-heavy roster.
“If I don’t play, I’m really excited for our new guys,” Howard said. “That’s a great way to come into college basketball, playing the defending national champions. But at the end of the day, it’s just the start of the season. It’s one game. I’ll be excited to be watching or playing, just to be in that environment.
“It’s no rush [to return]. It’s more important to be playing in February or March than to be playing in November. That’s my mind-set about it, and I think that’s everybody else’s.”
Howard has thrown himself into his rehabilitation after missing all but 14 games of the 2011-12 season after breaking his left foot in October, then tearing the ACL in his right knee in February. He swims and does cardio work in the morning, undergoes treatment midday and lifts weights in the afternoon. And when the Terps gather for offseason practice (an NCAA rules change permits two hours of work per week with coaches), Howard rides a stationary bike, unable to run full-out yet.
Coach Mark Turgeon has devoted the first few practices working on basic skills and half-court defense. Turgeon said it’s far too early to wonder who will start at point guard, noting that there’s little reason to worry, either, given the squad’s depth.
“Seth Allen will play some point. Sam Cassell will play some point. Nick Faust will play some point, and I think Pe’Shon Howard will play some point,” Turgeon said. “They’ll all get a chance. And they’ll all play some [shooting guard]. Nick will be the only one who will play some [small forward]; he’s tall enough.”
Turgeon added that he expected Howard to be 100 percent when practice starts mid-October “if he doesn’t do anything stupid, like trying to come back too quickly.”
The most notable change in the squad, Turgeon said before a Terps on Tour stop in Columbia on Thursday night, is in the front court, where 7-foot-1 center Alex Len has bulked up (now 245 pounds instead of 225), James Padgett has added heft and newcomers Shaquille Cleare (6-9) and Charles Mitchell (6-8) are making their presence felt.
“It’s a bunch of men down there,” Turgeon said of his front court. “I know they’re young, but they’re physical. They just like banging on each other, so we have to cut it back for them.”
Howard predicts next season’s Terps will be a more physical team with a tougher mindset.
“We have the bodies; we have the size. Now it’s just a matter of getting that mentality. The [summer] workouts are going to help us a lot. The depth is going to help us a lot. I think we have the length and speed to be more of an up-tempo team. We definitely have the length to be a better rebounding team and a better defensive team.”
— Maryland expects to add a walk-on with a familiar name — Steven Elmore, son of all-American Len Elmore — in August. Jonathan Thomas and Arnold Richmond, two walk-ons who contributed last season, won’t return. Richmond has accepted a scholarship at Division II Shaw in Raleigh. John Auslander and Spencer Barks are expected to return.
— Maryland’s 2012-13 schedule won’t be released until August, but Turgeon said the ACC component is difficult again. He reiterated his hope of scheduling a game in Baltimore in the future, which didn’t work out this season, and his desire to raise the caliber and profile of Maryland’s nonconference opponents.
Asked if Kansas, his alma mater, was on his wish list, Turgeon said: “I think it would be a great experience for everybody. There’s a lot of big-name schools I’d like to talk to.”