But look down the roster. The list of known commodities extends far beyond those two. There’s potential breakout star Aaron Wiggins, glue guy Darryl Morsell, the always-calm Eric Ayala and more. That’s the strength of this team, the one Coach Mark Turgeon calls probably his deepest in his nine seasons at Maryland.
Expectations have followed the group from the moment last year’s NCAA tournament ended, but “we’re not talking about it much,” Wiggins said. “We know what’s there for us, and we know how good of a team we could be.”
The few who sit on the highest tier of this roster have separated themselves, but quality extends through 11 players, Turgeon said. It took the young crew months last season to develop its seventh and eighth members of the rotation. This year the rotation already seems solid. It could be boosted by pleasant surprises from freshmen such as Donta Scott and Makhi Mitchell. There are plenty of lineup combinations that seem reliable and promising.
“I think there’ll be times in games this year where we sub and we get better,” Turgeon said. “And that’s not always … the case.”
Without much depth on the roster the past couple of years, starters would take a few minutes to rest while the reserves merely tried to cling to any lead. By the time most of the first-choice group reassembled, the advantage might have been gone. Turgeon isn’t worried much about that this season. And players, he said, won’t get to play through mistakes; they will “learn by sitting and they’ll correct it pretty quickly.”
Freshmen can ease toward consistent playing time as they become ready. And over the course of the five-month campaign, that depth could ultimately keep the Terps fresh and ready for March.
“Talent-wise and depth-wise, yeah, we’ve got a chance,” Turgeon said, “but if they’re coachable and they’re selfless, then we’ll get continue to get better and we’ll do some great things.”
Wiggins set for sophomore surge
Wiggins was on the bench during the final moments of last season’s loss against LSU in the second round of the NCAA tournament. As Ayala’s desperation heave at the buzzer missed, Wiggins sunk into a squat, his freshman year ending just shy of a Sweet 16 berth. Since then, Wiggins said he has watched the play in which LSU hit the go-ahead layup “thousands of times.” Turgeon told the players to take a week or two off after that game, but most returned to the gym a couple of days later.
“That's something that you want to bounce back from, something that you don't want to sit on and just think about forever,” Wiggins said.
So the players turned that into an early, emphatic start to this year’s offseason. Wiggins made what Turgeon called a “huge jump” over the summer, sometimes working out four times a day. When Wiggins met with Turgeon at the end of last season, the coach outlined where the rising sophomore needed to improve, which Wiggins embraced.
Wiggins played an integral role as a freshman but didn’t start. He averaged 8.3 points per game and regularly hit threes against the toughest opponents. But Turgeon still wants him to be more aggressive offensively.
“I made it a priority to get stronger, get quicker and continue to have a better understanding of the game of basketball,” Wiggins said. “I made that really personal during the offseason and I just worked as hard as I could.”
Cowan returns, Marial makes progress
Cowan missed a few days of practice last week because of a concussion, but by Tuesday he had returned to full strength. A few other returners, whom Turgeon didn’t name, also missed recent practices with injuries, but their absences allowed newcomers to get more reps.
Chol Marial, a 7-foot-2 freshman with high upside, had surgery in early September to repair stress fractures in both legs.
“I was nervous,” Marial said of the operation. “I didn’t think [there was] another way to do it, because I have sat out for over a year and a half, resting it, and it didn’t go anywhere.”
Six weeks out from the surgery, Turgeon said Marial’s recent update with the doctor went well. Marial will have another check-up Nov. 25, after which he could be cleared to play. Marial needed crutches for a couple of weeks, but he has been able to participate in team activities, such as lifting and shooting, as long as his feet don’t leave the ground.
“He’s doing terrific,” Turgeon said. “The doctor couldn’t have been happier with where he is, and he feels much better than he did before surgery.”
Turgeon’s ‘best staff’
When Maryland needed to find an assistant coach late in this offseason’s hiring cycle, the program landed a proven coach in DeAndre Haynes, the former Michigan assistant who worked under John Beilein.
“Players love him, and they love being around him,” Turgeon said of Haynes, 35, who works with the team’s guards.
Haynes filled out what had been a Maryland staff in limbo for a few weeks following Kevin Broadus’s decision to take the head coaching job at Morgan State. Haynes joins assistants Matt Brady, who is in his second year in his role, and Bino Ranson, whose Maryland tenure predates Turgeon.
“I don’t want to make anybody mad that’s worked for me, but I think this is my best staff,” said Turgeon, who is in his 22nd year as a head coach.
Turgeon praised director of operations and behind-the-scenes guru Mark Bialkoski, as well as video coordinator Greg Manning Jr., who Turgeon said is “way overqualified for his role and just works his tail off.” Strength coach Kyle Tarp has earned his share of credit this offseason, too, given the physical development of many players.
“It’s a great staff,” Turgeon said, “and hopefully it’ll pay dividends for us as the games come along.”
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