By way of advancing the metaphor, Mark Turgeon rubbed his face. If the Maryland men’s basketball players like one another as much as they preach to reporters, the third-year coach said, then they need to be comfortable pointing out each other’s flaws.
“When you really like somebody,” Turgeon said, nodding and touching his cheek, “you tell them, ‘Oh, you’ve got something on your face, right? Well, you better box out next time.’ If you really care about somebody, you tell them the way it should be.”
Two games into the new season, Maryland’s locker room chemistry hasn’t quite spilled onto the floor. Many Terrapins spend almost every waking minute with one another, whether in class, cracking jokes in their apartments, working out at Comcast Center or watching television in the team lounge. But two disjointed first halves against Connecticut and Abilene Christian reveal that task to be very much a work in progress.
“I think we like each other,” Turgeon said. “I think on the court you’ve got to respect each other, what each guy brings to the team. … Do we really feel comfortable yelling at our teammates all the time to do the right thing? We’re getting there. We call it a call-out. Our guys are getting better with that.”
Junior Dez Wells seems the obvious choice to fill that role. As Maryland’s unquestioned leader, the ball of energy who bounces around team huddles before tip-off barking encouragement, he commands enough respect and possesses enough confidence to become the in-your-face enforcer of accountability.
But Wells spent 15 straight minutes on the bench during Wednesday’s win over the Wildcats, shelved because Turgeon grew frustrated with three quick turnovers. After the game, Turgeon called it a “miscommunication” that’s since been rectified, and promised his relationship with Wells has strengthened in the incident’s aftermath.
“The good thing for me, I coached one year in the NBA so I know how to react to certain situations,” said Turgeon, who spent one season as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1997-98. “It was his ninth turnover in about 38 minutes of playing time. He’s frustrated, I’m frustrated and he can’t turn the ball over. It was just a lazy play. It was a culmination of six turnovers against Connecticut and three quick ones in that game. We all get frustrated. When you’re not playing well, not playing hard, it’s real easy to get frustrated.”
As Turgeon spoke after Friday’s practice, Wells was the only Maryland player still on the court, hoisting jumpers around the perimeter and finishing with some free throws. This work ethic, Turgeon said, has earned Wells enough clout to justify quickly burying whatever happened against Abilene Christian.
“It’s hard to get on a guy who tries hard, and he tries hard almost every day all the time,” Turgeon said. “It’s easier to let a couple things go with those kind of guys than the guys who, one day they’re pretty good then the next day they’re loafing. He competes.”
Loafing was precisely the problem Wednesday, Turgeon said, when a Wildcats team transitioning from Division II to Division I led by one point at halftime. The Terps eventually closed the game on a 29-0 run over the final 23 possessions and romped by double digits, but with Wells benched and the Terps easing off the throttle, no one player held the others accountable for the mistakes before intermission.
“I think we have a couple guys that do that,” forward Evan Smotrycz said. “At the same time, we need to be accountable for ourselves. You don’t want to be the guy calling people out only to miss a box-out yourself. There’s kind of a balance there. We’re learning as the season goes.”
Said forward John Auslander: “I think guys are trying to fill that role. It’s tough, because we’re all so close to each other. Sometimes we’ve got to be able to get on somebody and accept the message, not take it personally and try to get better. We need somebody to be on us from the player perspective, pushing us to get better.”