Maryland’s departure from the ACC could lead to Coach Mark Turgeon reconnecting with North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. Or at least Turgeon should feel comfortable calling his mentor regularly again.
Turgeon cooled it on seeking advice from Williams, whom he served under long ago at Kansas, once they became competitors in the same conference. “And with having to play each other two and three times a year,” Turgeon said, “I really didn’t want him knowing about all my problems.”
Many of Maryland’s issues — poor defense, awful three-point shooting and an overall lack of focus — were apparent again Wednesday night in North Carolina’s 79-68 victory at Comcast Center. With only one game remaining in his second regular season at Maryland (the team closes on the road Sunday at Virginia), Turgeon clearly has plenty of work ahead of him to build the type of strong program Terrapins fans once expected.
The team has shown some improvement from last season. It’s just that after rolling to a 12-1 nonconference record — which was misleading because of a schedule that, to put it nicely, wasn’t stocked with NCAA tournament-caliber teams — Maryland was wildly inconsistent in ACC play. Then the Terps had one of their worst clunkers in the final game on their home court. Not good.
Still, Turgeon has no doubts he’ll succeed. Williams sees the situation similarly. Give his protege some time, Williams said. Turgeon has a lot of hurdles to clear.
“Mark has done a fantastic job,” said Williams, who between phone calls uses game video and the Internet to keep up on what’s happening with his friend’s team.
“The fact that some people don’t see it . . . they don’t realize what college basketball is about. He’s done a great job with some things going on with the program.”
The administration’s decision to bolt for a bigger payday from the Big Ten wasn’t included in the recruiting pitch that lured Turgeon to College Park.
Turgeon knew he’d have to rebuild a program that flopped recently because of poor recruiting; changing conferences wasn’t in the deal. Turgeon came to Maryland to be part of the tradition-rich ACC.
There’s no arguing that the Big Ten is a great basketball league as well. But there’s only one Tobacco Road.
For college coaches, your conference is everything. Many spend their entire careers pursuing ACC positions. If Turgeon could get the Terrapins turned around in the powerful ACC, well, that’s the sort of thing that looks great in the history books.
Maryland will develop new rivalries in the Big Ten. It’s not as if facing Indiana and Michigan will be a breeze compared to battling Duke and North Carolina each season. It will, however, be different.
“It’s not what Turge thought it was going to be,” Williams said. “I’m shocked by the whole thing, Maryland leaving, but it’s the scene. It’s the culture that we have in college athletics today. There could be three more different leagues next week that we don’t even know about right now.
“But Turge had no control over it. He understands that. He’s going to put his head down every day and try to do the best job he can for the University of Maryland. That’s what you have to do as a coach.”
Coaches also have to recruit well. Turgeon has worked hard to rejuvenate the Terrapins’ recruiting. He had to.
Former coach Gary Williams didn’t exactly leave Turgeon with a stacked roster. Williams led Maryland to two Final Four appearances. He won the 2001-02 national title. Williams accomplished so much while, by all appearances, running as clean a program as you’ll find in the game.
It’s also no secret Williams disliked many aspects of recruiting. Maryland dropped off because Williams didn’t sign enough top-notch recruits.
“The talent level was down,” Williams said.
Immediately, Turgeon got after it in recruiting. The Terrapins’ talent level is improving. Among the team’s top 10 players, seven are freshmen or sophomores. That’s encouraging for the future.
“He has a very young team that’s going to continue to get better,” Williams said.
Of course, show me a team that relies on freshmen and sophomores, I’ll show you a frustrated coach. On the bench, Turgeon often has a pained expression on his face. It seems like he’s always asking someone, “What was that?” Turgeon was especially down after Wednesday’s performance. He had every right to be.
Turgeon could have made it easier on himself. He could have gone the quick-fix route and signed many older junior college players. Perhaps more experienced players would be able to remember Turgeon’s instruction. Or at least more often than this group does, which isn’t nearly enough to satisfy Turgeon.
“Mark is not just a basketball coach. He’s building a program,” Williams said. “He’s not trying to do it quickly. He’s trying to do it right. He’s trying to establish something people will appreciate.”
If Maryland defeats Virginia, it would finish with a .500 conference mark. The Terrapins haven’t finished at .500 or better in the ACC since the 2009-10 season. Unless Maryland wins the ACC tournament title, it won’t be in the NCAA tournament. But the NIT, which didn’t invite the Terrapins the past two seasons, could call. That’s a place to start.
“And you know what?” Williams asked. “Mark is a marathon runner. He’s in this for the long haul.”
Count on Turgeon and Williams talking a lot as soon as Maryland’s exit from the ACC is complete. Williams wants to see Turgeon succeed. And as you can see, Williams has a whole lot to say.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.