On one end of the court was a group of freshman guards firing elbow jumpers; on the other were three big men rolling to the rim for dunks. And at the center was Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon, swiveling his body to survey all his players as one thought kept popping in and out of his head: It is a great time to go to Italy.
“This will help us,” Turgeon said after the Terrapins finished their ninth of 10 summer practices at Xfinity Center on Thursday. “I can’t imagine starting October with this group. I’d be a nervous wreck, but this is really going to help me relax.”
This group is young and unfamiliar with each other and, after forward Schnider Herard departed the program Wednesday, down to 10 scholarship players (with three spots left open). So Maryland’s upcoming 10-day trip to Italy — which starts Saturday and includes three scrimmages and a handful of additional practices — is a good chance for the players to get comfortable with one another on and off the court. It also will give Turgeon a better idea of what he has on his roster, and what he needs to add to it in the future.
The Terrapins head to Italy without senior forward Ivan Bender, who will remain in College Park to rehab a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered last December. That leaves nine scholarship players on the traveling roster: guards Anthony Cowan Jr., Darryl Morsell, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Serrel Smith Jr., and forwards Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith, Joshua Tomaic and Trace Ramsey. Ayala, Wiggins, Serrel Smith, Jalen Smith and Ramsey are all incoming freshmen.
“Now I know what I have, which will help our recruiting moving forward here,” Turgeon said of how the Italy trip can be beneficial even beyond this coming season. “Because I’ll be able to work with these cats. And then I’ll see them in a game situation, so I’ll know what I need to add to next year’s team. A lot of time you don’t know that in early signing because you don’t start until October. It’s a huge advantage in a lot of areas for us.”
As for whether Maryland is looking to add another player for this season, Turgeon said he will take a careful approach. Local prospect Ricardo Lindo visited Thursday’s practice with his father. Lindo, a 6-foot-7 forward, played at Wilson High in Washington and has been gearing up for a prep year to set him up for college in 2019. But Lindo does have the option to join the Class of 2018, though a source close to him said that is not the plan as of now.
“We got a lot going on recruiting-wise, whether we’ll be able to add a piece or not we’ll see. I hope so. But we felt this way before what happened yesterday, that we needed to add a piece,” Turgeon said, referring to the departure of Herard, who never played in a game for Maryland after transferring from Mississippi State last winter. “So we’re trying to … we’re looking, it’s hard. But we want to add the right piece. I don’t want to add a piece to add a piece; we want to add a piece for a guy who can really help our program.”
Maryland has an apparent strength in its likely starting frontcourt of Fernando and Jalen Smith. Fernando returns to Maryland after testing the NBA draft process this past spring and displayed an expanded range during Thursday’s one-hour practice. Smith is a five-star recruit who was ranked 10th overall in ESPN’s final Class of 2018 rankings. The pair complements each other well, with Smith a versatile stretch-forward and Fernando the kind of player whose size commands the paint on both ends. They also could prove to be interchangeable if Fernando continues to extend his offensive game to the three-point arc.
In the backcourt, Turgeon seems to have a third starting spot open next to Cowan and Morsell after Kevin Huerter left for the NBA. Ayala, who did a prep year after high school and is 19 years old, has generated buzz during summer practices. Turgeon likes Ayala’s ability to play point guard and give Cowan, the team’s leading scorer from last season at 15.8 points per game, more chances to play off the ball. Turgeon added that Ayala is a better scorer than he expected the 6-foot-5 guard to be when the Terrapins signed him last year.
Now Ayala, as well as the team’s other first-year guards, has a chance to battle for playing time in Italy. Maryland will tour four cities and scrimmage against the Rome All-Stars on Aug. 6, the Pisa All-Stars on Aug. 8, and the Netherlands ‘National B’ team on Aug. 11.
“Just having fun and getting to know the team a lot more,” Fernando said Thursday of what he’s looking to get out of the Italy trip. “I think that will be a great experience for us as a team with the new guys and everybody else coming back, to be able to see where we’re at a team right now.”
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