In today’s print editions of The Post, we traced a cycle of disappointment inside the Maryland men’s basketball program, where hyped recruiting classes have failed to produce positive results, which in turn have resulted in tumultuous, transfer-heavy offseasons further aggravating the fan base still searching for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010.
Less than one month remains until the latest crop of heralded freshmen, a five-man group ranked ninth by ESPN.com, reports to campus for the Terrapins. But even then, reporters and fans cannot glimpse the team until, at the earliest, the fall. Without much potential for overriding optimism in the interim – a new assistant coach and a transfer the most likely chances – the lasting story lines between Coach Mark Turgeon’s third and fourth seasons will be the exodus of four scholarship players, three of whom were recruited, evaluated and signed by Turgeon and his staff.
“I just want kids who are going to be committed to the program, even when things aren’t going exactly the way you want them to go,” Turgeon said in a recent interview. “I think that’s really what’s important. That’s part of being a team, part of being … to me, it’s about Maryland basketball. It’s bigger than all of us. It was here before we got here, it’s going to be here long after we’re gone. But there’s a lot of pride and tradition at Maryland, and we’ve got to be more committed to that. That’s what I want to change.”
Below are some additional thoughts on the state of Terps basketball as it enters a critical season for Turgeon, his staff, his players and the program at large. (Three of the most recent transfers – Allen, Nick Faust and Roddy Peters – did not respond to repeated requests from The Post for explanation about their decisions. Neither did Allen’s mother, Faust’s father or Peters’s mother.)
“I haven’t given up on [Turgeon] yet, by any means,” ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman said. “This is a key year for him. But if they make the tournament this year, it’ll be forgotten. He’ll be fine and move forward … But I will say, I’m a little bit confused about the exodus.”
A CULTURE CHANGE
The tweets from Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz, Jake Layman, Turgeon, assistant coach Dustin Clark and special assistant Juan Dixon foreshadow the new culture, one of defiance and quick farewells. Their spin next season will be about how the Terps are more united than ever, bonded not only by so many departures but by the reaction from fans. Smotrycz did not have to tweet, “We are all behind Coach Turgeon,” but he attempted to convince followers that those who remain have come together, knowing full well that this upcoming season marks a crossroads for Turgeon and the program.
And the message, from the players in particular, was clear: Look how strong this group has become.
“We had already accepted Seth was leaving two or three days before it came out,” Turgeon said. “I think their show of support was like, ‘All right, calm down everybody. We still have some good players.’”
The one comparison Turgeon has evoked is Texas, which lost five transfers before last season and improbably, as calls came for Coach Rick Barnes to lose his job, reached the NCAA tournament.
“It appears to me, from the outside looking in that Texas has totally bought in, their chemistry is very good and the pieces fit,” Kansas Coach Bill Self told USA Today in February.
Few coaches survive wiping two slates clean in three seasons, but Turgeon’s long contract has bought him extra time. He and the Terps know something must change, and their public comments indicate it will start with the attitude. Asked whether Turgeon drew a line in the sand with those he deemed uncommitted to the program, he responded as follows:
“Sometimes kids are irrational so you have to talk sense into them. And other kids are just so dead set that they’re going to leave, that you’ve got to let them go because you don’t want them around. Sometimes though, something goes wrong, then you can usually try to save some of those things. Unfortunately it’s a big part of what we do today. Guys leave early for the NBA and they don’t have a place to go. Guys transfer because things just aren’t going well and they think the grass is greener. For some guys, transfers are good. For others, it doesn’t work out quite as well.”
FILLING THE VOID
Make no mistake, though. The Terps wished Allen had stuck around, and for good reason. His statistics leaped between his first and second years. He was more disciplined, splitting fewer double teams and less inclined to shoot early in the shot clock, according to data from Synergy Sports. (His defensive efficiency, for what it’s worth, took a massive hit, going from allowing 0.735 points per possession in man-to-man defense situations to 0.953.)
New players will chew up Allen’s minutes and stats. Maryland will not shoot any fewer times per game because Allen left. But can other Terps replace the production of the future Hokie? Allen, after all, was among the nation’s best spot-up jump shooters (92nd percentile, per Synergy); excelled at the high pick and roll (1.071 points per possession, per Synergy), a crucial element on Turgeon’s offense; shot a team-best 38 percent on three-pointers; and helped clinch the team’s two biggest victories of the past two seasons (Duke and Virginia at home).
The obvious answer lurks around the Beltway, biding his time before summer school. Melo Trimble, Maryland’s first McDonald’s all-American since 2003 and The Washington Post’s All-Met Player of the Year, will arrive with immense expectations, even greater than those shouldered by Peters last season. He will slide into the starting point guard spot upon arrival and, barring injury, should log 30 minutes per game next season. Turgeon called Trimble to say as much after Allen asked for his release.
As it stands, the Terps have a thin back court. Losing Allen trimmed some potential for smaller lineups with Trimble, Allen and Wells at the one, two and three spots, though incoming freshmen Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens will now likely have larger roles than previously anticipated.
Maryland is still searching for a fifth-year transfer guard, someone who can spell Trimble and bring a measure of experience to the table. Richaud Pack (North Carolina A&T) is the top option, after Hawaii’s Keith Shamburger committed to Missouri and IUPUI’s Ian Chiles chose Tennessee. Right now, Wells would be the backup point. Of the 11 players currently listed on the Terps roster, two of them are scholarship guards.
“Yeah we’ve got to find a player,” Turgeon said. “It’s not ideal, the timing, for us. We’ve got to add a piece and we’ll try to do that.”
Four scholarship transfers – and possibly a fifth, with Charles Mitchell still weighing his options – does not create a positive pitch for recruits, especially when four of those potential five were recruited, evaluated and signed by the current regime. Internally, lamenting over lost pieces won’t accomplish much, but the Terps will worry about how this affects recruiting.
The disconnect between hype and results has frustrated plenty, but by many measures Turgeon has succeeded at recruiting strong classes, at least in the moment, this latest one the biggest and best. Mitchell, Cleare, Allen and Layman formed a solid inaugural group, addressing multiple positions with players from across the country. Peters was viewed as the start of a hometown movement based upon strong relationships with the local AAU circuit, alongside a long-term grab in center Damonte Dodd. All five members of the recruiting class of 2014 are considered four-star prospects by ESPN.
But the problems have ignited once the letters are signed and the players come to campus, issues the Terps have struggled with enough without the added burden of recruiting against coaches who will use this attrition against them.
“It’s not a worry of mine, but it’s something I’ll have to address with every recruit going forward,” Turgeon said. “It’s our business. If they weren’t talking about that, they were talking about something else. ‘Oh they have too many players.’ Now it’s, ‘What’s wrong there, everybody’s leaving?’ They know. The coaches know. We’ll address it. It comes down to relationships.”