CHARLOTTE — Five practices are far too few for Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon to begin thinking about a potential starting lineup. Heck, he might still be working on it five days before the season opener in Brooklyn, N.Y., against Kentucky. At this point, with a roster far deeper than the one fielded in Turgeon’s inaugural campaign in College Park, it’s all about readying the contributors at multiple positions. Rotations and lineups are not important. Situational preparedness is.
Positional diversity is scattered across Maryland’s roster. Alex Len and Charles Mitchell possess the low-post skills necessary to back down opponents at the center position, but they also can play face-up basketball with feathery jump shots and guard more athletic players at power forward. Freshman Jake Layman has worked almost exclusively at small forward since arriving on campus, but Turgeon anticipates installing a series or two with the former Team USA swingman at power forward, taking advantage of Layman’s skills as both a dribble penetrator and post-up forward.
Turgeon’s options are most evident, though, than at the guard spot. The Terps’ back court may not possess as much depth as in the youthful and charismatic paint, but Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust and Seth Allen have all seen work at point guard and shooting guard through preseason workouts.
Howard, who has battled back from offseason ACL surgery, is Maryland’s purest point guard. With a penchant for passing and defense, Howard possesses the traits Turgeon desires in a floor general. “Kids today don’t like to do that,” Turgeon said Wednesday at ACC media day. “Kids like to shoot and do what they have to do. … He’s the one guy who thinks like a point guard.”
Once Howard returned from the foot injury that sidelined him from the early portion of 2011-12, the Terps’ defense demonstrated improvement. Maryland held both Radford and Albany, the first two teams Howard played against, to less than 40 percent shooting. But after Howard tore his ACL, Maryland’s defense was never the same. “Potentially, with the athletes we have and the depth we have, we should be much better defensively,” Turgeon said.
Allen, a natural scorer with freakish athletic ability, is further along at shooting guard than he is at point guard, while Faust has seen work at both guard spots and at small forward. Last season, even as Faust overcame a frigid shooting stretch and rediscovered consistency toward the back end of Maryland’s ACC schedule, Turgeon and his staff still noticed a mechanical weakness. Rather than keep his shooting elbow in, Faust would often wind up from across his body, loading from the wrong side. It was a throw, almost like a two-handed shot put, rather than a shot.
Turgeon waited until the offseason to fix Faust’s mechanics, preferring to not mess with things during games. But Faust openly accepted the change, drilling his shot in the gym every day for weeks. Relapses still occur, especially during the fast break when Faust will hoist a poor three-pointer, but Turgeon says his set shot has vastly improved in accuracy and form.
“Doing it the right way, you’ve got to have one shot, can’t have six different shots,” Turgeon said. “Right now he has one and a half, but it’s more towards the better one, most of the time. He’s worked at it, got to give him credit.”
As Faust mentioned during Wednesday’s ACC media day, he’s found inspiration from Juan Dixon, seeking advice on success from one of the all-time Maryland greats.
“I put [Dixon’s] picture up in my office, so I think he comes to see that every day,” Turgeon cracked. “I think he’s looking for a paycheck. No, he’s just been around. He loves it. Juan is fired up about Maryland basketball.”
When Faust spoke about Dixon’s impact, he zeroed in on developing fast-break vision. Turgeon said he hasn’t noticed that yet from his one-geared, single-minded sophomore, but Faust has certainly become a better passer in the half-court game.
Once Faust tasted point guard duty after Howard went down last season, he doesn’t want to go back. While not a true point guard, Turgeon sees potential to run the floor and score at the same time. “He likes having the ball in his hands,” Turgeon said. “He’s a better point guard this year than he was last year already in practice. His decision making has got a little better. It’s something we have to continue to work on.”
So that puts Howard at the point, occasionally spelled by Allen and Faust, who should spend the majority of their time on the wing.
“I don’t know,” Turgeon said. “Ask me in two weeks and I might answer that question differently.”