Terps hope Nick Faust can become an elite perimeter defender

October 17, 2013

(Associated Press)

CHARLOTTE — Six years ago, Mark Turgeon took over the Texas A&M men’s basketball program, inheriting a recruiting class that included a five-star center from Houston named DeAndre Jordan. That preseason, with the NBA already in Jordan’s crosshairs, Turgeon took aside his most prized asset and preached the importance of defense.

“You got to be the best defender and the best rebounder and you’re going to make $50 million,” Turgeon told Jordan.

“Coach,” the teenager replied, “I want to score.”

So Jordan scored, or at least he tried. He shot 61.7 percent from the field, accumulating points mostly on dunks, but was dreadful beyond the rim and even worse at the free throw line. But late in the season, something clicked. Against Baylor on March 5, 2008, Jordan collected 10 rebounds and blocked six shots. Three months later, the Los Angeles Clippers drafted him 35th overall. This year, Jordan will make nearly $11 million. Because of his lockdown defensive abilities, first-year coach Doc Rivers has compared Jordan to Deion Sanders.

“He’s going to make $100 million instead of $50 million just defending and rebounding,” Turgeon said. “It’s hard to convince young people what they really are, compared to what they want to be. And it’s one of the really delicate situations.”

Today at Maryland, Turgeon approaches a similar situation with equal parts caution and optimism, because he sees plenty of DeAndre Jordan in Nick Faust. Turgeon has challenged the junior swingman, the only remaining Terps regular recruited by Gary Williams, to become Maryland’s lockdown defender, a far departure from the score-first mentality Faust has employed since arriving in College Park. But on a team littered with playmakers, the Terrapins need a stopper. That player, Turgeon hopes, can be Faust.

“Nick’s going to have to be that guy,” Turgeon said Wednesday at ACC media day. “As long as he’s not in foul trouble, to lock in and guard the best player. Nick wants to play professional. I’m sure he wants to play in the NBA. But he also wants to make money playing basketball. I think if he can add that to his game, it can really help him.

“No matter what level you coach, you always want good defenders. You want guys who can score, guys who can rebound, guys who can dribble, guys who can shoot. If Nick can become an elite defender, that’s going to help him make a team someday. He’s bought into it. Nick still wants to score. And we need him to score. But he needs to be an elite defender for us.”

That burden fell to point guard Pe’Shon Howard last season, particularly as Maryland streaked through the postseason and into the National Invitational Tournament semifinals. But not long after Howard transferred to Southern California, Faust met with Turgeon and accepted the challenge.

“I think he definitely has the tools,” classmate Evan Smotrycz said, “when he wants to play defense.”

That, in a nutshell, has always held Faust back. Turgeon always felt the Baltimore native could defend, but the desire to score kept overpowering his will to guard. He has averaged 9.2 points per game over his two-year career at Maryland, but is a lifetime 31.9 percent three-point shooter over 210 attempts. And with Smotrycz, Dez Wells and Jake Layman more efficient wing options, Faust sees opportunity to carve out another role and earn playing time by deflecting passes and smothering ballhandlers.

“We just have so many options,” he said. “We have a lot of great defenders on the team, but since Coach is putting me up to this challenge, it’s something I’m looking forward to being. I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready for it. It’ll be good.”

Last summer, Faust began changing his shooting stroke, firing attempt after attempt inside an empty Comcast Center until the new form stuck. Defensive skills, on the other hand, cannot improve from repetition alone. It requires film study, attention to detail and an analytical approach. That’s why the best shooters can be described as unconscious, and the best defenders cerebral.

So Faust began including more film study into his afternoons. He looks for offensive tendencies, how guards read plays, and whether they rely on a go-to move. The results came quick. Since preseason practice began, Faust has led Maryland in practice deflections. He still reverts to old habits, Turgeon said, but not nearly as much as he used to.

When the Terps tip off against Connecticut at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in just more than three weeks, Faust will stand beside either Shabazz Napier or Ryan Boatright, two speedy guards several inches shorter than him. Maryland may need him to score, much like he did late last season, when he reached double figures in 10 of his final 12 games. Perhaps not, if everything goes right. But if Turgeon gets his way, the Nick Faust who departs Maryland will leave behind a legacy of, above all else, defense.

“He has to be,” Turgeon said. “He has no choice. He’s ready. Nick’s played a lot of minutes in his career already. Nick doesn’t want to play in the NIT again. It takes sacrifices to be on a great team, so if we’re asking Nick to be our best defender, and he wants to be on the best team he can be, he’s going to do it.”

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Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · October 17, 2013