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Two Maryland basketball teams, two top 10 rankings

The Maryland women, celebrating a win. (By Patrick Semansky / AP)

Laurin Mincy is the only senior on the Maryland women’s basketball team. But she isn’t the only senior basketball player at Maryland. So before her senior night last week, Mincy got a text message of encouragement from another one of those seniors: Dez Wells, the guts of Maryland’s men’s team.

Before Wells was similarly honored at Xfinity Center, Mincy sent a similar message, telling Wells how well he’s played this year, how strong a leader he’s been, and how excited she is to watch his Terrapins in the NCAA tournament.

“We have a pretty cool relationship,” Mincy said, and while was talking about her friendship with Wells, she could have been talking about the relationship between the two teams.

This season has gone about as well as any fan of Maryland basketball could have hoped. The women are 28-2 and ranked fourth in the country. The men are 25-5 and ranked 10th. That makes Maryland the only school in the country with both its basketball teams ranked in the top 10.

The women finished first in their inaugural Big Ten campaign, and will play in the league’s semifinals on Saturday. The men have clinched second place with one regular season game remaining, earning a double bye into next week’s quarterfinals. Together, the two teams have 31 regular season Big Ten wins, six more than any other school this season. Just wait until they get comfortable in their new digs, right?

And even though the programs aren’t formally connected, they share more than just a home court. Players see each other in the weight room and between practices. They talk to each other on social media — Damonte Dodd recently used his Instagram to ask students to go to a women’s game — and they take some of the same classes. Kyle Tarp, the director of basketball performance for the men’s team, used to work with the women’s team; so did head trainer Matt Charvat.

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They go to each other’s games, too. Most of the women’s team participated in the student flash mob during the men’s recent win over Wisconsin.

“We were all going crazy,” Malina Howard said.

“I was pretty hyped about that,” agreed Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, the women’s leading scorer.

“If we had the time, we definitely would have been out there storming the court with all the students,” Mincy laughed. “It’s very exciting to see them doing well.”

Members of the men’s team, meanwhile, stopped by the Stamp Student Union to help the women with their breast cancer awareness campaign, and are fixtures in the Xfinity student section.

“Some of the other guys just chill in the back, but I’m kind of the guy that doesn’t mind looking stupid and cheering and being loud,” said senior Jon Graham, who went to about half of the women’s home games this season. “I’ve seen them come and support us, and I’m cool with a bunch of them; I think the least I can do is support them.”

The mutual admiration extends to the top of each program. Men’s Coach Mark Turgeon has tweeted about the women’s success; women’s Coach Brenda Frese has done the same for the men. At the beginning of one of Turgeon’s recent media sessions, he said he first wanted to congratulate the women’s team for clinching the Big Ten championship before he answered any questions.

“I just think it’s amazing what they’ve done,” Turgeon later explained. “I really like Brenda and I like her staff. We’re both busy, but we get along and we root for each other. And then I get to know the girls and I talk to the girls — I see them coming off the floor, I work out when they’re working out. When you get to know people like that, it’s easy to root for them.”

Turgeon said he sees “true friendship between the players,” noting that no one has to encourage them to support each other. He also said it’s his responsibility, as one of the school’s highest-profile figures, to recognize any athletic team that’s doing well. But the ties will inevitably be closer between teams that play the same sport; “basketball players watch basketball, not just women’s basketball,” Frese said of her roster.

Which is why Frese believes the men’s success this year — the national ranking, the impending first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010 — actually helps her program.

“When I took the job here in 2002, the men had just won the national championship,” she said. “That sold so many people when I was on the phone with recruits, no question. It’s visibility on a national scale.”

Frese later won a title of her own, making Maryland the only school in the current Big Ten that can claim national championships in both sports. Only Maryland and Connecticut, in fact, have won titles in both sports this century.

At least on paper, both teams figure to be Final Four contenders later this month. The travel and disparate start times means the players might not get to watch each other’s games; Graham asked for a women’s score update after practice Friday afternoon. (The Terps beat Michigan State, 70-60, in the Big Ten quarterfinals.) But even if it’s just electronically, they’ll be charting the progress of what could be a memorable month for Maryland basketball.

“The basketball program here at Maryland, we’re a family,” Howard said. “And to see someone in your family having success, that’s really special.”

“We’re trying to do big things this year,” Dodd told my colleague Roman Stubbs on Friday. “And we’re trying to do it together.”

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