Point guards engulf Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard during practice and film sessions, scrutinizing mistakes and needling the junior for minute improvements. Coach Mark Turgeon, assistants Bino Ranson, Scott Spinelli and Dalonte Hill all served as offensive floor generals during their playing days, as did video coordinator Matt Braeuer and graduate assistant Eric Hayes. Now it’s Howard’s turn.
As the Maryland basketball team’s offense continues to find its groove, highlighted by a breakout second-half performance at Northwestern, Howard’s leadership becomes even more crucial. In ideal situations, he serves as Turgeon’s vocal mirror, relaying calls and communicating assignments on the fly. When the Terps found their groove on the secondary break against the Wildcats, Howard was the initiator.
Studying Turgeon from the sideline while rehabbing from an ACL injury last season helped put Howard onto the same page as his coach. Having five former point guards on the staff accelerated the learning process. Now, with Maryland at 5-1 heading into Sunday’s BB&T Classic game against George Mason at the Verizon Center, he’s the ACC leader in assists per game with 6.8.
Howard’s assist percentage, an estimate of the percentage of the team’s field goals he assists upon, is at 38.1 percent, also tops in the ACC. In other words, nearly two-fifths of all Maryland’s baskets get assisted by Howard whenever he’s in the game.
“He’s communicating better,” Turgeon said. “He knows the offense better, so he’s telling everyone where to go. [Freshman guard Seth Allen is] not quite there yet. Pe’Shon’s putting the team first. We’ve talked about shooting the ball, concentrating on shooting, he’s just communicating, running the team, knows what to look for. Really been a great extension of what I want. I can’t believe how far he’s come.”
Turgeon lauded his second-half efforts in Maryland’s 77-57 blowout of Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., when Howard tallied all six of his assists against just one turnover. But watching film, Howard still saw little improvements that needed to be made. A few times, 6-foot-5 guard Drew Crawford was guarding forward Charles Mitchell in the post, an obvious mismatch that Howard didn’t exploit. Though the Wildcats disguised their post players well with rotations, they couldn’t really match up with the likes of Alex Len, James Padgett, Shaquille Cleare and Mitchell.
Only when Turgeon made a halftime adjustment to the secondary break did the Terps begin pumping passes inside to great effectiveness. Preferably, however, Turgeon shouldn’t need to make that call.
“It shouldn’t have been coach’s adjustment. I should have made it first,” Howard said. “Coach wasn’t upset with it, but it’s something to work on, every day we come in and try to get better. Hopefully in February or March, it’ll come down to it where he won’t even have to coach. I can just run it for him.”
Playing such a cerebral position where feel and comfort level are intricacies crucial to success, Howard has spoken before about the need for developing chemistry with his young teammates. He’s watched film on secondary breaks run by Texas A&M, Turgeon’s last coaching gig, and seems generally disinterested in personal statistics or shooting numbers. If defenses slip under screens, he’ll take open shots. But Howard would prefer to attack the lane and distribute.
“I have a good pace to my game now, change speeds, break things down,” Howard said. “Watching film. Really just mentally preparing myself, doing a better job at that, and just growing up a bit.”
Twice in the past two weeks, swingman Dez Wells has told reporters that Howard is underappreciated by reporters and fans, simply because he doesn’t take enough shots. Howard shot 1 for 8 against Kentucky in the season opener. He’s taken 12 shots since.
“He’s not underappreciated by us, and that’s all that matters,” Turgeon said. “It’s what makes your group unique. Our guys respect each other, and what everyone can bring to us. They know what Pe’Shon’s bringing to us. Our guys appreciate all the things guys can do. They respect that. That’s why our chemistry’s good, and we have a chance to be a good team. “