CHARLOTTE – It was after a 63-61 loss to Georgia Tech, on the plane ride home from Atlanta, when Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon thought it was over. He wouldn’t survive much longer at Maryland, not after a loss like that. A little over-dramatic? Sure. But help arrived over the next few months, a familiar sight to Turgeon.
He’s built programs with transfers before. He could do it again.
“I had no idea what I was inheriting, and everybody jumped ship when I took the job,” Turgeon said. “We’re better off today because of it, because people jumped ship, but it’s not very fun when it’s Day Two on the job and you have six scholarship players, and you left the preseason Big 12 number one team behind.”
Sure, nabbing top recruits like Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman, or even under-the-radar talents like Charles Mitchell and Seth Allen helped aid the transition from Texas A&M to Maryland. But this season’s roster has three impact transfers, one who will miss this season because of NCAA transfer rules, another whose status for this season is undecided and a third who instantly became Maryland’s biggest three-point threat. Two of them have NCAA tournament experience.
Turgeon has recruited transfers since his days leading Wichita State and always leaves a scholarship open for a potential migrant player, simply because of college basketball’s high rate of exoduses.
But Turgeon accepts defectors with the understanding that one year sitting out is hardly a year off. It’s a year for weight-room work, for hard practices and extra individual work. “It’s definitely not a redshirt year, except it’s not playing games,” Turgeon said. He and his staff put together blueprints for Evan Smotrycz, a transfer from Michigan who will sit out the 2012-13 season, and so far he’s remained on course.
With Dez Wells’s eligibility in the NCAA’s hands — the initial decision could very well come next week — optimism still reigns among the Terps, but a similar plan could be in place for the Xavier transfer as well. At the very least, Maryland will almost certainly field the nation’s best scout team.
The lone transfer who will definitely see the court this season, former Albany wing Logan Aronhalt, figures to open up the floor off the bench with his pinpoint shooting. “When you score 1,100 points, I don’t care where you are, you can score the ball,” Turgeon said. “He’s one of our best shooters, so you have to guard him. It opens up things from our big guys, it opens up penetration. You can’t stand there and let Logan shoot it, because it’s going to make it. It really helps our spacing.”
Turgeon does not think transfers should be able to play immediately, which he thinks could result in chaos. But with Smotrycz and potentially Wells playing for the first time next season, that gives Turgeon a de facto recruiting class of top-ranked players, albeit ones with postseason experience. Anything to help Maryland compete in an ever-expanding ACC landscape.
“I think we’ll be the number one league in the country,” Turgeon said. “I don’t know why we won’t be. I think it’s great. It’s a different job from what I took, but I think it’s great, when you don’t have to finish in the top two or three to make the NCAA tournament. I wouldn’t say it takes pressure off, because there’s always pressure, but it gives you a chance, when you’re going to get seven, eight, hopefully nine teams into the tournament in the future.
“I do think high school players want to be a part of our league. You see them committing to our league, unless it’s Kentucky. Maybe Billy Donovan in Florida. A lot of people are wanting to play in the ACC.”
High school players and transfers, too.