Wiggins’s sophomore campaign — which some analysts believe, and Maryland fans hope, will be a breakout one — technically started this month. But whatever success this season brings will have roots in that conversation back in March..
“He told me a lot of things that he felt like I needed to work on, and he told me every single thing that he expected of me in the offseason,” Wiggins recalled. “And I took it really personally.”
Though the Terrapins are just two games into the schedule, Wiggins has played like a sophomore, someone who should be a solidified starter and one of the most important members of this team.
But even in those easy wins, Wiggins has shown his progress. He’s already a proficient shooter, but with added strength, Wiggins has expanded his skill set. He has improved defensively and can drive the lane with more physicality.
“Wiggs is such a better player than he was last year,” Turgeon said after the season opener against Holy Cross. “It’s not even close.”
Wiggins feels like he can move quicker in any direction after spending significant time this offseason on the slide board, which is used by skiers and speedskaters because it features the motion integral to their sports. For Wiggins, he said that work has “made a huge difference in terms of being able to get stops and defend.”
With depth working to Turgeon’s advantage this season, leaving space for early-season experimentation, only three players started in both of Maryland’s first two games: Wiggins, senior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and sophomore forward Jalen Smith. But Cowan and Smith were both staples in the starting group last season, while Wiggins played off the bench, only starting four times. Turgeon rarely adjusted the lineup — the same five players started all 20 conference games — so Wiggins’s role remained unchanged.
Wiggins performed well last year, averaging 8.3 points 23.5 minutes per game, both sixth on the team. But he led the team by shooting 41.3 percent from three-point range, with a knack for hitting shots in big-time games. Wiggins scored a season-high 15 points twice — on the road against Michigan and Michigan State. He notched 13 points against eventual national champion Virginia, the seventh game of his college career.
Heading into this season, Maryland expected its freshman-turned-sophomore core to take a leap, so Wiggins seemed poised to embrace an enhanced role. He already had shown bursts of ability, but now he has grown comfortable and confident, too.
“It's been a mind-set since the first time we met when the season ended and he was going to be a big part of our offense this year,” Turgeon said. “He's really gotten better defensively. He's gotten better rebounding. His communication is great. He's improved as much as anybody on our team.”
Against Holy Cross, Wiggins scored nine points but missed all six of his three-point attempts. After the game, Turgeon said, “I do not worry about Aaron Wiggins making shots.”
Four days later against Rhode Island, Wiggins hit two of five shots from deep while recording his first career double-double — 13 points and 13 rebounds, with the latter perhaps the most stark piece of evidence that supports Wiggins’s development. Last year, he averaged 3.3 rebounds per game.
Maryland’s 2018-19 squad relied heavily on playing through Bruno Fernando, who departed for the NBA and is now with the Atlanta Hawks. This season, Turgeon said he can count on Smith, Cowan, Wiggins and sophomore guard Eric Ayala to handle that responsibility.
Last season, Turgeon mentioned multiple times that he wanted to see more assertiveness out of the 6-foot-6 Wiggins, who describes it as “playing to create, not just being out on the court taking up space.” Sometimes that’s aiming to score, but it can also mean making the right passes, playing with physicality and leading his teammates. That’s still the spot where Turgeon hopes to see growth.
“This week [in practice], he passed up a lot of shots and it kind of pissed me off, to be honest with you,” Turgeon said Friday. “I want him to be more aggressive offensively. … He’s just a gifted scorer. And that’s the key for me, like, I don’t like him passing up open shots.”
There’s still an abundance of time left in this season. Wiggins knows as well as anyone how much improvement can be made in a few months. Eventually, this team will play in critical games down the stretch. That’s when Wiggins’s growth will be most prominently on display, and that’s when Maryland will need it most.