The moment Mark Turgeon landed in the Washington area, fresh off the plane as Maryland’s new men’s basketball coach, his phone rang. On the other end was an old friend, armed with an offer.
Their time together dates back to the mid-1980s. Turgeon was a point guard at Kansas, on the verge of becoming a two-time captain for the Jayhawks. John Calipari was an assistant at the University of Kansas, the door shut on an unremarkable playing career that took him from UNC Wilmington to Clarion (Pa.) University before he embarked on his first coaching gig.
So when Turgeon took over the Terrapins in 2011, Calipari called and proposed a game: Maryland-Kentucky in 2012 at Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center. Maryland would get national exposure, an ESPN broadcast against a team that would win the national title and three home games as part of the Barclays Center Classic.
“It was a no-brainer,” Turgeon said. “As a friend he didn’t have to do that, but he wanted to help our program.”
Playing on a neutral floor helped sweeten the deal. Kentucky hasn’t lost at Rupp Arena since Calipari took over. But don’t expect the marquee matchup to continue into future seasons.
“This is the last time we’ll do something like this,” Turgeon said.
Any potential awkwardness between Turgeon and Calipari over the Harrison twins’ decision to play at Kentucky instead of Maryland simply does not exist. The coaches spoke Friday, when Turgeon was in Colorado Springs at a surprise party for former Kansas coach Tad Boyle. Turgeon and Calipari were supposed to coach together at a Southern Methodist clinic the following morning, but Turgeon had two flights out of Colorado Springs cancelled by American Airlines and Calipari had to attend the funeral of a former Massachusetts player.
As for the players, the Terps exhibited unanimous excitement when asked about Kentucky.
“It’s going to be a coming-out party for Maryland basketball,” freshman Charles Mitchell said.