SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Freshman Nick Faust trotted on court at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico on Wednesday sporting a Mohawk, assuring Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon that the new hairstyle would bring good luck.
Sidelined point guard Pe’Shon Howard cast off his crutches and took to the court, too, shooting jump shots while hopping on his right foot to show his teammates that a broken left foot hadn’t slowed him down.
The mood was light during Maryland’s open practice at Puerto Rico’s biggest basketball arena. But business gets serious Thursday, when Maryland faces the first of its three opponents in the four-day Puerto Rico Classic.
Turgeon would never have scheduled such a grueling, early test of stamina had he known his roster would be so depleted, culled to just seven scholarship players as a result of Howard’s broken foot and center Alex Len’s 10-game NCAA suspension. Maryland committed to the tournament well before Turgeon was named Gary Williams’s successor in May, anyway.
In a sense, it would be a victory for the short-handed Terrapins simply to emerge intact and upright after playing three games in four days. Turgeon wants a real victory — if not two or three — to bolster Maryland’s 1-0 record and its players’ emerging confidence.
“You go home 0 for , and you’re a little concerned about psyche and all that,” Turgeon said, having led the team in a serious, closed-door practice earlier in the day.
Maryland opens against Alabama (2-0), which just missed the NCAA tournament last year and is considered a favorite to win the eight-team event here.
Colorado is coached by one of his closest friends and former Kansas teammate, Tad Boyle, who was on Turgeon’s staffs at Jacksonville State and Wichita State. Turgeon’s Texas A&M squad defeated Colorado in overtime last season, and in many respects it was a joyless victory.
“I was hoping it was the last time we ever played against each other,” Turgeon said.
Wichita State is the mid-major Turgeon resurrected and led to the 2006 NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16, where the Shockers fell to George Mason. While the current Shockers are new to Turgeon, the program and its supporters remain close to his heart.
From Turgeon’s perspective, the tournament represents an opportunity for Maryland to make major strides quickly — both in teamwork and ability.
In terms of basketball skill, he wants to see better rebounding than he did in Maryland’s 71-62 season-opening victory against UNC Wilmington. Maryland won the battle of the boards, 36-30, but Turgeon believes his players should have dominated more.
He’s also looking for more effort, speed and commitment on transition defense, having shown his players videotape during practice that documented how much faster they ran on offense against UNC Wilmington than they ran back on defense.
Rebounding and defense are part of the grunt work of basketball. But to Turgeon, they’re also windows on a player’s soul and desire. And at this point in the season, with the Terps’ inside shooting a bigger threat than their perimeter game, rebounding and defense are vital.
Note: Maryland will play Kentucky in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic next year.
Officials of the Barclays Center announced the event will be held Nov. 9 in the new arena in Brooklyn.
Kentucky will face Maryland in the featured game on ESPN, along with Morehead State against LIU.