CHARLOTTE — The order was simple for the 15 Maryland men’s basketball players, all working on the same page. Sixteen minutes of exercise. Pushups. Mountain climbers. Bridges.
Facing his second family, sweating and wheezing through “The Program” this offseason, James Padgett barked out the orders. He was the command general, forced to become the vocal leader he never was before.
Up, down. Left, right. Stop, go.
Seconds seemed like years as the Terrapins marched through the workout, time ticking away toward 16 minutes of perfection. With nine seconds left, at 15 minutes 51 seconds, Padgett mixed up one final call. A teammate called him out on the mistake.
“Fine,” Padgett said. “Let’s just keep going. We’re going to start all over.”
“I’ve heard him speak up, but he has never been put on the spot like that. I was wondering how he was going to handle it,” point guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “We started off a little shaky, but then they really challenged us, and he answered. He really spoke up, got into the people he needed to, encouraged the people he needed to, and he did a great job with it.”
The next go-around was perfect.
“James really stepped up during that time,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “There’s natural-born leaders, then there’s guys who forge their way into it. James is the second one. He’s led by example, now he’s trying to lead by his voice. He’s learned a lot and our guys listen to him.”
The irony here, of course, is that Padgett has been in the news of late for doing an un-leader-like thing: He was arrested for driving while impaired by University of Maryland police in June, which earned him a court date Friday and likely a three-game suspension to start his senior season, including the opener against Kentucky in his home town of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Due to the pending legal issue, Padgett and the Terps kept silent on the matter during Wednesday’s ACC media day in Charlotte. Instead, he spoke at length about emerging from his shell over the offseason, about the personal growth that led to him being named a co-captain alongside Howard.
“Everyone likes me enough to be able to take me as a leader, without thinking he’s too aggressive or is working privileges,” Padgett said.
At the end of his junior season, when Padgett led the Terps with 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 offensive boards per game, Turgeon issued a challenge. Padgett would be one of two seniors on the 2012-13 team. Turgeon needed him to become a vocal leader, too.
“[Turgeon] told me: ‘You’re going to be one of the veterans. You have to hold everyone accountable for what they’re doing,’ ” Padgett said.
Said Howard: “He’s one of the guys who leads by example. Coach has asked him to be a leader, and he’s really put it upon himself to be vocal, to be one of these guys who the young guys look up to. If we need anything, we can go to James. He’s just taken on the role with open arms. I just applaud him watching him grow in that way, and he did it so fast from last spring to now.”
That came to the fore one early September morning on the football practice field. The 16-minute drill kicked off Maryland’s two-day leadership training and development session. Padgett volunteered immediately.
“Ready,” Padgett yelled, toeing the 25-yard line, facing his teammates, ready for jumping jacks.