Andrew Terrell, center, cheering with his trusty towel. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

During the summer after his senior year of high school, Andrew Terrell golfed with a childhood friend at a difficult course near his Indianapolis home. By the final few holes, once Terrell secured the win, the conversation drifted toward Terrell’s college decision.

Terrell had attended freshman orientation at Indiana, chosen his classes and arranged his meal plan. He planned to live with one of his best friends. He would join the long line of family members with an Indiana degree, including his parents, his older brothers and close to 20 cousins. He would not play college basketball.

But late in the spring, Maryland basketball coaches watched game film sent by Terrell’s high school coach and decided he could walk on. Terrell waited months to decide. Maryland didn’t push him; adding a 5-foot-10 walk-on wasn’t a high priority. Finally, as the start of the school year approached, Terrell let the 18th hole decide for him.

“I like to put a lot of things to chance, to fate,” Terrell said.

If Terrell shot at least par, he said, he would go to Maryland. His friend and playing partner, Adam Iffert, didn’t take him seriously. Terrell birdied and called Nima Omidvar, the Terrapins’ director of basketball operations at the time, before he left the course.

“He claims he put the decision on a golf hole,” said Nick Stewart, one of Terrell’s cousins and a close friend. “He’s so good at golf he could do whatever he wanted.”

Soon after Terrell chose Maryland — or, in his version, a golf ball chose for him — he arrived in College Park. He first met Melo Trimble, followed by Jake Layman and his dog, Tiny. (“A little baby,” Terrell said. “She’s beautiful.”) Terrell and his parents, Mick and Julie, had a meeting with Coach Mark Turgeon, who asked whether Terrell could help his chip shot.

And so Terrell began his four-year stay at Maryland, becoming a beloved walk-on by being himself. Barring a blowout in the postseason, or a bit of run in Friday’s senior night game against Minnesota, Terrell’s career stats will look something like this: 45 minutes, 2-for-7 shooting, 0 for 2 from the foul line, two rebounds, four assists and five points. Maryland loves him anyway.

“I thought he would eventually get discouraged,” Terrell’s dad said. “But it was just the opposite.”

‘The life of the party’

After Terrell arrived on campus, Turgeon heard the freshman felt homesick, so he asked Omidvar to check on him. Omidvar headed to the locker room, where he said he found Terrell “holding court, laughing up a storm, talking trash to Melo.”

Omidvar returned to Turgeon and said: “Yeah, he’s not homesick at all. He’s already the life of the party.”

As a freshman on a team that reached No. 2 in the national rankings, Terrell was surrounded by stars and expectations, but he found his role. He always has been the funny one, a self-described class clown who also prides himself on his self-awareness. Terrell documented parts of Maryland’s season in humorous videos, including one in which he asked teammates and coaches to name their favorite walk-on and to weigh in on whether Maryland had the best-looking team in the tournament field.

“I embrace what I do and what I bring to the table,” Terrell said. “I think everybody’s thankful for having somebody that keeps things light.”

Terrell has mastered the art of stepping close to the line of what’s unacceptable, maybe even touching that line, but never crossing it.

“He goes just far enough where he knows he can get away with it,” former teammate Kevin Huerter said, “and then he stops.”

Terrell’s dad tells a story of when Turgeon sent Andrew a clip of practice film, highlighting a play gone horribly wrong. The walk-on responded, “So what you’re telling me is I’m going to start on Saturday?”

When Stewart visits his longtime friend in College Park, he said, he feels as if he’s walking around with a celebrity. Terrell receives more attention on campus than some starters at Indiana, said Matt Menne, the friend Terrell was supposed to room with at Indiana. People gravitate toward Terrell, and his friends point toward the same reason: He’s funny and relatable.

This season, Terrell began a blog, called Tilted Bench, that ventures into topics a bit further than some programs might prefer. When Terrell first started, he texted Turgeon’s wife, Ann, about the blog before he told his coach.

“Because I knew if I could get Mrs. Turgeon on board,” Terrell said, “Coach Turgeon was right behind her.”

On one post, there’s a user submission box where readers can guess which teammate would retreat to the bathroom for extended periods of time during flights. Others mention the pregame steak he eats while sitting in the hot tub and the time he forgot to wear his jersey under his warmup shirt. But even the outlandish stories usually come back to how he loves this whole experience, his teammates and his coach.

“When I get asked the question, ‘Is it worth it to be a guy who never plays?’ ” Terrell wrote on his blog in December. “Simple answer — Yes. Extended answer — F--- yes.”


Andrew Terrell celebrated with Melo Trimble after Trimble's go-ahead three-pointer against Michigan State in 2017. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

‘The South Pole is going to miss him’

Terrell’s dad might be the only person who gets irritated by missed shots when Maryland leads by a significant margin late in games. He gets on two of Terrell’s close friends, starters Darryl Morsell and Anthony Cowan Jr., about it.

“I say when we’re up 20, that’s crunchtime for Andrew,” Mick Terrell said. “Because we’ve got to get it to 30. That’s our only hope.”

If Terrell’s parents are watching from home, Julie clicks record once Maryland leads by 25. That’s around the time her son starts to tap his feet on the far end of the bench — an area dubbed the South Pole — trying to get warm.

Terrell has made two shots in his career — one this season against Mount St. Mary’s and a three-pointer against Rhode Island in his freshman debut. He calls that 2015 Thanksgiving tournament game his best ever and said he will tell his kids he was a starter.

But throughout his career, Terrell has become known for his performances on the bench as much as other players make their mark on the court.

The towel around his neck has become Terrell’s trademark, which started because a childhood friend pointed out an NBA player who wore a towel and told Terrell, “Dude, if you don’t do that, you’re missing it.” He kept it up because that’s how his grandma recognizes him on TV, and it’s the perfect prop for all occasions.


Andrew Terrell, shown last season, was appreciative of his towel when he appeared on the broadcast during the recent loss to Penn State. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Terrell whipped it so hard after one of Trimble’s three-pointers that he almost lost feeling in his shoulder. When he needs to talk to his fellow South Pole residents in private, Terrell places the towel over his mouth.

“I’m always thankful for the towel,” Terrell said. “It’s never let me down.”

Terrell and his teammates rack up bench warnings from officials, which he said are simultaneously the best and the worst. As long as Turgeon’s into it, they will keep pushing the line after the first warning.

“The South Pole is going to miss him,” said Omidvar, who is now an assistant coach at South Alabama. “I don’t know there’s going to be another Andy T. sitting at the end of that bench.”

Terrell, a communications major, earned a scholarship this December, a token of appreciation for how he has bettered the program as a member of the scout team and for developing into a likable leader. Huerter said everyone would joke that Terrell was by far Turgeon’s favorite player. But how has he done it? How have the jokes and the pranks survived in a big-time basketball program without truly irritating Turgeon?

“I don’t know,” Terrell said with a genuinely curious tone. “I think he does secretly love it.”

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