CHARLOTTE — It’s the spotlight that Nick Faust relishes most. Bright lights. Shrieking crowds. Pressure. It’s always served as motivation for Maryland’s sophomore guard, a West Baltimore native who had to grow up fast. He can’t remember exactly where it came from. Maybe at home, during his days as a prized recruit out of Baltimore City College High School. Maybe he’s always had it. During Wednesday’s ACC media day, Faust made one thing clear: He entered Maryland as a highly ranked player, and he wants to leave College Park as one, too.
Faust battled inconsistency through his freshman season, including a brutal shooting stretch during nonconference play. But he spent the summer drilling spot shots and the catch-and-shoot, working on keeping his elbow in. It’s not often that a sophomore is deemed a veteran, but Faust will be counted on to lead a Terps team featuring just two seniors.
He grew up quick through one season in College Park. He had to.
“There’s always pressure on me, trying to take on that leadership role,” Faust said. “Back as the leading scorer, there’s pressure, but you play basketball for that. Just trying to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Even if that means shooting less. When Pe’Shon Howard tore his ACL in February, Faust stepped into the point guard role, a move that coincided with a torrid scoring run through ACC play that balanced out his unprecedented cold snap. Adjusting to the college game’s pace meant slowing down, developing patience.
This offseason brought inspiration from a familiar source. As Juan Dixon, a Terps legend in his own right, hung around Comcast Center while working on his NBA comeback, he took Faust under his wing with inspirational talks and pointed advice, instructing him to take stock of the culture change coinciding with Coach Mark Turgeon’s arrival.
On the fast break, Dixon helped Faust learn to kick out and create for others, to feel out the tempo rather than bulldoze towards the rim, head down, full-speed ahead.
“I definitely felt impatient at times, especially early starting off, I felt I was in a little rush,” Faust said of his freshman season. “At the end, I finally got the feel of the game.
“It’s definitely frustrating. You always feel like you have to do something to help the team. Coach explained to me, some plays you have to let the team do what they have to do. I don’t have to press myself to make every spectacular play.”
It’s fitting, then, that Faust won the Juan Dixon Award given Maryland’s most improved player, finishing second on the team in assists and steals and third in points. After Howard went down, Faust averaged 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in nine games.
“For Nick, it’s been a quick transition for him,” senior James Padgett said. “As time went on, as he understood the pace of the game, he was finally able to move up and help others get comfortable. Leaders come in when certain situations make you a leader. When Pe’Shon went down, that’s when Nick stepped up.”
In practices so far, Faust has seen time at point guard and could spell Howard and freshman Seth Allen if necessary, though Turgeon said he’s unsure about Faust’s role just yet.
“What I see today, compared to a year ago today, you have a much physically stronger Nick, he’s up to about 205” pounds, Turgeon said last week at Maryland’s media day. “He still tries to do a little too much. I need Nick to practice better and play better. He knows that. He’s frustrated.”
But like clockwork, Turgeon is on his case at every day, trying to dispel that inconsistency and uncover a leader.
“I feel like I took on the challenge, did whatever I could to help my team win,” Faust said. “Losing Pe’Shon, he was a great veteran. Filling that role, once I made that adjustment I would be fine for the season.
Over Maryland’s final nine games, Faust shot 45 percent and averaged 13.4 points, compared with 33.7 percent and 7.8 points per game before. The moment Faust finally felt things click in his freshman season, when everything slowed down and came together, was just before that stretch, during a 15-point, eight-rebound performance at Duke on Feb. 11.
Cameron Indoor Stadium. You know, big lights and all that.