Terps Basketball: Everybody Remembers The Headlines, But…
When I first started giving thought to a July-period piece on Maryland basketball I gave serious thought to doing something really clinical from an X’s and O’s perspective for the upcoming season. I figured I could do a thousand words on attacking UVA’s pack-line defense or the best way to teach a young team multiple offensive concepts. I mean, seriously, there is no real news that happens in the college basketball world during July, right?
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The only good news resulting from the news reports that came out last Friday is the fact that I don’t have to subject anybody to any technical analysis. The reports that came out that day can only be viewed as disappointments to anybody who follows the Terps and by a lot of folks that simply follow the sport. If you want to come to terms with things there is no way to sugarcoat it…it was not a great day.
Kudos to the Maryland sports information staff for one of the great Friday news dumps of all time. The Friday after a mid-week holiday is the perfect time to release bad news – and subpoenas from the FBI certainly qualify as that. I honestly don’t think much will come out of the subpoenas from a legal sense. I don’t work in the basketball office on a daily basis but I would be shocked if there were any improprieties uncovered at all. That said there are some things at stake here that may be far bigger than any individual coach or player or inducement.
I may be telling stories out of school here but 3-4 hours after Maryland’s root-canal level loss in the Big Ten tournament this season I ran into Head Coach Mark Turgeon and one of his kids at a burger place in NYC. With wounds still fresh, he dissected the last five minutes of the game and all that had transpired. I felt a little like Doctor Phil and just let him talk. The pain he felt from that loss paled in comparison once the conversation gravitated to the Stone/Miller/Dawkins story that had broken the week before the tournament. Comparatively speaking, his reaction to the fallout of that story reflected a lot more pain than one loss could ever inflict.
You may think that after three decades in the chair you earn a certain kind of sweat equity. All of that can be gone in an instant. He’s a good man. This too shall pass.
Dean Smith once famously said that ‘if you live and die with every win and loss, you’re going to die an awful lot’ – or words to that effect. Turgeon has been involved in college sports for over 30 years and knows this as well as anybody. What he also knows is that when you get headlines like these there are two huge issues you have immediately. The first is that you are, perhaps, the most visible figure at your school. What you do is a reflection –to an extent- of that University. Believe it or not, I was part of an NCAA investigation at American U in the 1980’s (don’t laugh cuz it wasn’t funny) and you’re definitely sensitive to the University’s reaction to these things.
The second is that Coaches get reputations. In college hoops we have guys like Saint Mike in Durham and (until recently) Ricky the Scumbag in Louisville. You may not agree with either of those assessments but, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Perception becomes a reality of sorts and the longer a guy coaches the more likely he is to have a reputation. My own gut feeling is that the insane exposure for the sport feeds those perceptions and the fact is the sport is a lot like life – there is a lot of gray area and the delta between K and Pitino isn’t nearly as wide as a lot of people think. But every sport needs heroes and villains and I think everybody in the arena understands that.
Even with that, NOBODY wants to be called a cheater.
The University and the Basketball office appear to be facing these issues head-on and I guess that’s the only way you can deal with it. I didn’t go to law school but I do know that subpoenas don’t mean guilt at all. I also know that everybody remembers the headlines but few remember the retraction.
On to hoops…
The basketball schedule could be released. The first game is an exhibition and this season will start earlier than ever. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a season that starts before Halloween but we could see it. That means the whole thing will get here faster and it means we’re officially closer to the start of next season than we are to last season. Obviously everybody wants to circle the Virginia game on 11/28 and there’s good reason for it. It offers up an old time rival on National TV for regional bragging rights. The story writes itself. More importantly it will probably offer up an opponent with a top ten ranking by the time that game gets here. It’s never too early to try and start collecting some pelts.
I also think you have to look beyond the UVA game a bit. I’m not going to call this team ‘young’ because they do have some experienced guys coming back. I will call them ‘new’ however and one of the most interesting parts of the sport involve watching a group of 20 year old guys trying to figure each other out over the hills and valleys of a six month season. There aren’t any books written on how to best establish chemistry but you sure do know it when you see it. To that point almost every game played in November and December become important.
You have to be happy and proud of Kevin Huerter. It’s amazing he had to be talked into going to the NBA combine and a few weeks later he’s a top 20 pick. As productive as he was on the court he’ll be missed every bit as much in the locker room. But losing him is not a program or season destroying thing. Guys leave. It happens. The staff at Maryland has recruited some pretty good high school players to step in and help right away. The returning guys will be a year older and better. The young guys all come in ready to play and are good enough to do just that. Given good health, the Terps could have one of the best front lines in the country with Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith. Anthony Cowan is an elite point guard in the Big Ten and will benefit by the presence of a couple of freshman guards that will allow him to play less minutes in addition to playing some minutes off the ball – a la Melo Trimble.
There is much anticipation about Freshman Aaron Wiggins and his assimilation into Huerter’s spot as a primary scorer on the wing. In truth he doesn’t have to match Kevin’s numbers because the others around him should be significantly better than last year. He will, however be asked to be a dependable outside shooter and scorer. It would also help if he played Huerter-level defense. His on-the-ball defense last year was completely underrated.
The team has a well-timed trip to Italy next month that will last ten days. With that trip scheduled they also get ten days of practice to prepare for the trip and that should definitely help assimilate the newbies and provide for a nice jump start once practice rolls around this fall. Hopefully by that time we can concentrate on all the things happening on the court.