This Maryland men’s basketball team blends a significant influx of newcomers, including those transfers and a few freshmen, with a strong core of returning players. The roster turnover has created a team that’s deep, experienced and no longer lacking at key positions. Russell filled a void at point guard, and Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab provided an answer at center after the Terps struggled to compete against top big men last season. Coach Mark Turgeon has seven new scholarship players — five transfers and two freshmen — which ties the most he has added in a season as his Maryland tenure enters its 11th year.
“Everybody we try to sign we look at as an immediate impact guy, whether he’s a transfer or whether he’s a freshman, because no one wants to come and sit on the bench,” Turgeon said. “… You need to have good young kids and develop [them] and set a standard and a culture in your program, which we’ve been able to do. Then the [transfer] portal’s there. You’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Russell, who averaged 18.8 points as a junior and 14.7 as a senior, saw the Terps as an ideal fit. He’s from Philadelphia and played high school basketball with Donta Scott, a junior forward and one of Maryland’s returning starters. The Terps desperately needed a point guard, and Russell committed to become that solution early in the offseason — before last season’s national champion had even been crowned.
“I just want to win,” Russell said, adding that teammates Eric Ayala and Green are in a similar spot with one season left. “We have a lot of guys who have that same urgency as me. And the younger guys adopt that energy and feed off of us.”
Russell is fast like former Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., Turgeon said, and he’ll have more of a distributor role with the Terps than at Rhode Island, where he was the leading scorer the past two seasons. Russell said he’s ready to rack up steals and dive on the floor. In scrimmages, Russell’s teams nearly always win, Turgeon said.
Nobody on the roster has made it past the NCAA’s tournament round of 32, but their goals are grander than reaching the Sweet 16. In the weight room, Russell said, the players evaluate themselves by asking whether they are generating “Final Four energy.”
Turgeon’s starting lineup could be a veteran group of Russell, Ayala, junior Hakim Hart, Scott and Wahab. All five have at least two seasons of college experience, and they average more than 50 career starts.
Green, who hopes to have a defensive-minded role that helps fill the void left by Darryl Morsell, is 25. When his Old Dominion squad won a conference title, that group was led by experienced players.
“We stepped up in moments because of them, because they talked,” Green said, and he expects this Maryland group to have similar poise.
This Maryland team reflects a shift in the college basketball landscape. The eligibility relief prompted by the pandemic gave players another season, and some — such as Morsell, who left for Marquette after four years in College Park — explored other options. They no longer have to sit out a season after transferring. The teams that advanced to last season’s Final Four, including national champion Baylor, proved how valuable transfers can be. Coaches realized this avenue allows them to resolve roster deficiencies quickly.
The Terps didn’t have a Big Ten-caliber center last season, so they made do with Scott, who at 6-foot-8 sometimes had to defend players with significant size advantages. Maryland still overachieved expectations by reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament, where it lost to Alabama. But now, mostly thanks to these key transfers, the Terps have reclaimed their status as a team that should finish near the top of the Big Ten.
Wahab, a 6-11 center who averaged 12.7 points for the Hoyas last season, will take that starting spot, and behind him Maryland has Julian Reese, a 6-9 freshman. Reese is still developing, but Turgeon said the four-star recruit is better than the staff expected and has “Baltimore toughness.” Scott, who shot a team-high 43.8 percent from three-point range last season, returns at power forward; Turgeon has called him “one of the most improved players I’ve ever coached.” Maryland has more depth in the frontcourt with Arizona State transfer Pavlo Dziuba joining the group, too. Physically, the Terps should be more prepared for the rugged Big Ten slate.
The downside to the offseason’s revolving door is that it can take time for players to jell. But Green and Martinez mentioned how the energy of Maryland’s practices feels different. Even with a new-look crew that took winding paths to Maryland, Russell insisted “we all genuinely get along.” So his mind wanders toward the season. There’s optimism that this year will be better than the last — and these newcomers will provide the boost Turgeon’s team needs.
“The guys really like each other, and they really care about each other,” Turgeon said. “That’s a good sign. I’m getting a little bit older. I’ve had a lot of teams. So when you have a team that acts the way this team acts, it gives you a chance to be good.”
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A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Xavier Green was 24. He is 25. The article has been corrected.