As highlights from his team’s new conference looped on the video screen behind him, Mark Turgeon leaned against a counter inside Verizon Center’s Acela Club on Tuesday afternoon and faced a horde of cameras asking about the past. A triumphant day for the Big Ten, and by extension the Maryland men’s basketball team as the league announced its 2017 tournament would be held in Washington, gave way to the questions that have dominated the Terrapins this offseason:
Why have four players transferred over the past month, culminating in the departure of guard Seth Allen?
What change must be made to prevent a future exodus?
How much blame did Turgeon place upon himself?
With Athletics Director Kevin Anderson not far away, answering similar queries about a program that has failed to reach the NCAA tournament for four straight seasons and has finished 17-15 twice since Turgeon took over, the message was one of defiant confidence, no matter the hit Maryland’s perception has taken in the aftermath.
“I totally support Mark,” Anderson said. “We’re excited about going into the Big Ten. Our thing is, going into the Big Ten we’re going to be competitive. … We have a great team coming back and we have great recruits coming back. I think we’ll just continue to be Maryland basketball.”
The problem, of course, is that Maryland basketball has not met the expectations established in the early 2000s, when Gary Williams led the Terps to consecutive Final Fours and a national title. Under Turgeon, Maryland has not finished above .500 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and has reached a postseason tournament just once.
Then came the exodus: Roddy Peters, Shaquille Cleare and Nick Faust on the same day last month, and Allen’s departure last week. Turgeon shook off the idea that all four departures were connected, but Allen’s transfer stung the hardest, given its unexpected nature and the role the Woodbridge, Va., native was expected to play in the back court next season alongside incoming freshman Melo Trimble and rising senior Dez Wells.
“Seth Allen did,” Anderson said, when asked if any of the transfers surprised him. “No question about that. It’s just a trend that we’re seeing in college basketball. I wish them the best. They’re all good kids. I’m sure they’ll find a place to land. I hope they just land in the right place that’s good for them.”
College basketball transfers are nothing new – more than 400 Division I players have announced decisions just like Peters, Cleare, Faust and Allen – but the volume localized to one team has made the spotlight shine brighter on College Park. Turgeon kept repeating that the Terps will enter the summer with 11 players on scholarship, two more than they had at this time last season, which presumably means that Penn State transfer Jon Graham will be put back on scholarship.
“It’s no fun, because you get blindsided,” said Turgeon, who is entering the fourth season of an eight-year contract that stretches until 2018-19. “There’s still stuff going on out there. It’s not going to stop. It’s out there. It is what it is. As a coach moving forward you just try to recruit the right ones, try to have the right chemistry. I think what helps though is winning, winning at a high level. We haven’t done that yet. We won 25 our second year, but we really haven’t won at a high level. When you do that, there’s more of a commitment instead of trying to chase it somewhere else.”
That said, Turgeon admitted, the negativity surrounding four transfers can only be altered by success, which leaves several months for the shadow to hang over the program and the Terps to figure out how to break a trend of attrition.
“I think whether you’re winning 35 games a year and no one’s leaving, you always reevaluate yourself and what you’re doing,” Turgeon said. “Have I learned some things? Maybe. If I change, are things going to change with kids today? I don’t know. We’ll see. But you always look in the mirror. I look in the mirror every day. Ultimately I always blame myself for everything that happens under my watch.”