Huerter Goes Pro; What’s The Current Outlook For Maryland?
Wednesday marks the deadline for college players to announce their intentions to withdraw from the 2018 NBA Draft and return to school, and for the Maryland basketball program May 30th was a huge day on the calendar. While the Justin Jackson decision came early and surprised no one, and Bruno Fernando had already announced his decision to return for his sophomore season, Kevin Huerter was still on the board.
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Wednesday afternoon the news dropped, with Huerter making the decision to forego his final two seasons of eligibility and hire an agent. The NBA Draft Combine was a turning point with regards to the perception of Huerter, as his two days in Chicago were good enough to go from “expected second-round pick” to “solid chance of going in the first round.” Also the draft landscape has changed in recent years, with more second-rounders receiving contract guarantees and thus having more security than in the past. So to look at a decision like Huerter’s as “first round or back to school” would be a bit short-sighted.
It goes without saying that Maryland loses a lot with Huerter’s decision to remain in the draft. Last season he played 34.4 minutes per game, averaging 14.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest as one of the Terps’ most important players. Huerter shot the ball well at all three levels, served as a key secondary playmaker alongside starting point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and was the team’s best perimeter defender to boot. While Maryland won’t lack for talent next season, to lose Huerter is a difficult hit to take for a program that appeared poised to be the biggest threat to reigning regular season champion Michigan State in the Big Ten.
No Huerter places more responsibility on the shoulders of Cowan and Darryl Morsell, two of Maryland’s top three returning scorers (Fernando being the other), not to mention incoming freshmen such as four-star wing Aaron Wiggins and three-star combo guard Eric Ayala. Add in another quality perimeter prospect in spring signee Serrel Smith, who originally committed to Ole Miss, and 6-foot-7 wing Trace Ramsey, and Maryland will have options on the perimeter. But outside of Cowan, the lone upperclassman in the guard/wing rotation, this is going to be a very young group that will need time to come together.
The expectations for that group were going to be high from the start, which is to be expected given their talents. But in addition to what he brought from a talent standpoint, Huerter’s departure means the absence of a buffer of sorts for those freshmen; a little more time to feel things out as they get acclimated to the college game on a team that has aspirations of making a run in 2018-19 after failing to reach the NCAA tournament last season.
Another concern for Maryland heading into the summer is the numbers game, with there being two scholarships to fill. Of course Mark Turgeon and his staff can make the decision to keep those slots open, but given the injury issues of a season ago that would be a roll of the dice. Jackson missed the second half of last season with his shoulder injury, and Ivan Bender missed a considerable amount of time as well due to a torn meniscus that ended his season in late December.
Adding Schnider Herard to the front court rotation in December will help from a numbers standpoint, but until that time comes Maryland (as of right now) would be relying on Fernando, Bender, Joshua Tomaic and five-star freshman Jalen Smith to handle things inside. The perimeter depth looks to be a bit more promising at this stage but it wouldn’t hurt if Maryland were to find a late 2018 signee, either a freshman to help with the numbers or an immediately eligible transfer. But with June two days away, the pickings are quite slim.
How good can Maryland be without Huerter? His departure will likely temper expectations some, especially when considering how many other Big Ten teams returned talented players who were testing the NBA draft waters. That being said, it would be fair to expect Maryland to get back to the NCAA tournament after falling short last season. But the margin for error is a lot smaller than it was a couple days ago.