As the players kept bolting and the frustration kept growing, Mark Turgeon never felt the Maryland men’s basketball team had run aground. Five Terrapins had transferred, four of them signed as high school recruits by Turgeon and his coaching staff. And for a fourth straight season Maryland had just missed the NCAA tournament. But Turgeon was steadfast. “I didn’t think the ship was out of line,” he said Friday. “That’s me personally. Perception wise, people thought it was.”
The march back to relevancy may take time for the Terps, what with five incoming freshmen forming a recruiting class that ranks among the top 10 nationally. But Turgeon and his staff have also flipped their biggest problem into a boon, mining the transfer wire for experienced pieces, culminating in their biggest score yet on Friday morning, when the program announced that forward Robert Carter Jr., formerly of Georgia Tech, had committed to Maryland.
Carter, who visited College Park this week and flew back to his native Georgia on Thursday, will sit out a season per NCAA regulations before becoming a fourth-year junior in 2015-16.
“I had a good feeling,” Turgeon said via telephone. “We just had a tremendous visit, and I had a great relationship with Robert over the last two or three weeks, whenever he got his release. We talked on the phone almost every day, sometimes twice a day. I felt we built a great relationship. He was a guy I felt I had to have, had to get. So I put a lot into it. We had a great visit. We had a lot of fun. We laughed. I think that pushed it over the top.”
Turgeon spelled out his vision for Carter and the program, a vision that included Carter spending a season waiting to become eligible and biding his time inside the weight room with director of basketball performance Kyle Tarp. It included teaching a host of young big men like Damonte Dodd, Trayvon Reed and Michal Cekovsky, players who will look up to Carter for his elite productivity at Georgia Tech, during practice. It included brushing aside the desire to become a 20-point-a-night scorer, a sentiment Carter never really had anyway, and deferring to the collective will of a team still struggling to make noise on the national level.
“Once I got there, I could see how it would come about,” Carter said Friday in a telephone interview with The Post and Baltimore Sun. “It was the perfect place to fit me.”
Carter will not arrive on campus until Maryland’s second summer session, largely because the Terps are still a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference until July 1. Because Carter comes from Georgia Tech, intra-ACC transfers have to sit out two seasons per league rules. So Carter, Turgeon said, will enroll on July 14, two weeks after Maryland officially migrates to the Big Ten.
He comes as one of the country’s most productive big men while with the Yellow Jackets, averaging 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game during an injury-stunted sophomore season. Over two years in Atlanta, he recorded 10 double-doubles and, last season, ranked seventh nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy.
“One thing we didn’t have last year in practice was competition,” Turgeon said. “We didn’t have the depth. We had no competition. Therefore we couldn’t improve at the rate we needed to improve at. Adding a guy like Robert, we’re at 12 scholarships now. We’re going to have some serious competition in practice, which is going to make us better.”