They sprawled across the leather recliners like beached whales, basketball on the television and cellphones in hand. Such a scene usually takes place in the four-bedroom College Park apartment they all share, but on Monday night Dez Wells, Nick Faust and Evan Smotrycz — all juniors for the Maryland men’s basketball team — got comfortable inside the team lounge and did, well, nothing.
“I wasn’t old enough to see Michael Jordan, but I’m glad I could witness that,” Wells said, eyes glued to the television, watching career highlights of Allen Iverson. Across the room, Faust thumbed his phone. In between them, Smotrycz pondered whether to drink a half-full Gatorade he wasn’t sure was his.
Each arrived at Maryland under unique circumstances, but together — on the court, in their apartment, in this lounge — they form the backbone of Terrapins Coach Mark Turgeon’s most complete roster to date. The program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2010 dangles well within reach.
“We each bring something different,” Smotrycz said.
The off-campus apartment they share is like many others in College Park. Four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Two couches and two televisions in the living room, because on weekends the Terps all come over to watch football. One mini-basketball hoop hangs over the laundry closet, witness to some epic battles of H-O-R-S-E. The apartment is full of energy, with music blasting without fear of noise complaints, and irritatingly filthy to one of them.
“So messy,” Wells said.
“Nick’s messy,” Smotrycz replied, trying to save face. Wells was unmoved.
“Everyone’s messy,” he said.
Some mornings, Wells wakes up, scrubs the kitchen and takes out all the trash. Smotrycz calls it “cleaning mode,” so the roommates – the fourth being Jon Graham, a transfer from Penn State – intentionally allow the garbage pile to build. They know cleaning mode is never far behind.
In some ways, this mirrors Wells’s performance on the court last season. Whenever Maryland struggled, Wells took over, becoming the team’s vocal leader and face of the program in just his first season after a hurried transfer from Xavier. He averaged a team-high 13.1 points, and his career-high 30 points keyed an upset of Duke in the ACC tournament. As the Terps advanced to the National Invitational Tournament semifinals, his three-point accuracy improved and his turnover rate shrank.
Wells commands respect on the team with his vast knowledge of basketball history and his ever-growing desire to create some of his own at Maryland. On Monday morning, hours before gathering inside the lounge, Wells rose around 5 a.m. He went to Comcast Center, worked with a student manager on his ballhandling and shooting, practiced with the team at 8 a.m. and then worked out some more. For him, most days begin like this.
“Hopefully the legacy I leave behind will be something that people talk about for years and years to come,” he said at media day in early October.
“Yo,” Faust said, walking into Smotrycz’s bedroom. “Your mom just called me. Said to tell you to call her.”
Smotrycz looked at Faust. Faust looked at Smotrycz. Then they broke out laughing.
Moments like these, Faust recalled, happen often. The lanky swingman keeps quiet during games, but before and after he keeps things loose.
“I think the roles just fall in place,” Faust said. “You have Dez, who’s very vocal, loves to talk, gets the team going. You have Evan, who’s a little vocal and trying to do whatever he can to help the team. Then me, I’m not really a loud guy, more so leading-by-example-type of guy. I think it all just falls into place.”
Faust holds a unique distinction as the last current Terps player who signed his letter-of-intent when Gary Williams was still Maryland’s coach. The Baltimore native needed some persuading to stay after Turgeon succeeded Williams in 2011.
“Nick loves Maryland,” Turgeon said. “It’s where he grew up wanting to be.”
This summer, Turgeon challenged Faust to become the team’s best defender. On a roster replete with scorers, the Terps needed someone to sacrifice offensive highlights for the dirty work.
Smotrycz also knows his role. Like Wells, he transferred before last season but sat out per NCAA rules. The 6-foot-9 forward left Michigan after his sophomore campaign because he wanted to play along the perimeter more and use his postcard-perfect jump shot. So he will defend both the back court and front court for Maryland, while both shooting three-pointers and posting up inside on the opposite end.
Following center Alex Len’s departure for the NBA after two seasons, Maryland will switch to more guard-heavy lineups. Smotrycz, the Terps hope, gives the offense an entirely new dimension.
This season, Maryland’s burden falls squarely onto this triumvirate. Whatever messiness they tolerate at home must be kept off the court. No more NITs. No more losing to bottom-feeding ACC teams on the road.
Just Faust, Wells and Smotrycz leading the charge, then returning to the home their winding paths have led.