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Maryland came close, but the Harrisons are off to Kentucky. And just like that, two years of recruiting is gone. What now for Mark Turgeon & Co.?
I'd say it was fun while it lasted, but it wasn't. It was straight misery all the way through, followed by a massive letdown at the end.
As you've surely heard by this point, Aaron and Andrew Harrison pulled the trigger in favor of Kentucky, ending a two-year long recruitment that saw both schools put virtually all their eggs in the Harrison basket. As far as lessons in sadness go, it was a pretty depressing one.
I've seen two major streams of thought on this, both holding various degrees of truth. There's the optimist, who says "A year ago we never would've been in the top two of two five star players. That we got this far is a sign of serious progress, and with Mark Turgeon at the helm there's nothing to fear for the future of the program." Then there's the pessimist, who says "There are no moral victories in recruiting. All that happened was Maryland missing a golden opportunity to land two superstars."
Neither is exclusively true and both have some false bits in there, but combined they're not a terrible representation of the reality of the situation. Without a doubt, making a run for the Harrisons, the most hyped and coveted package deal in hoops recruiting history, is significant recruiting progress, something Marylanders have had no right to expect for the past 35 years. It's a sign that Mark Turgeon and Bino Ranson are for real as recruiters, that Under Armour is on the way up, and that the program is, probably, in good hands. This is proof that Turgeon can be in play for the best recruits in the country, and the good news is that Kentucky will only be recruiting a few of them in the future. Against softer competition - i.e., basically every other program in the country - Maryland's likely to win.
And yet ... it's impossible to look at this rationally without feeling a serious pang of disappointment. Not just because recruits were lost - every program has to deal with that - but because recruits of this magnitude were lost. Even assuming that Maryland does as well recruiting as they could reasonably be expected to do, they're more likely to emulate Michigan State or Syracuse than Kentucky or UCLA. Which is to say they'll be a program that recruits well nationally, cleans up locally, but will probably only land elite kids when they have the right set of circumstances.
The Harrisons were kids with that right set of circumstances. There will be other stars who are local guys, or who have UA ties, or both. But there won't be a lot of them, and there certainly won't be two consensus top-five guys coming along at the same time. They were legitimate program-changers, even for a Maryland program that's already in pretty decent shape. It stings.
But what's done is done, and the depression can only last so long. For Maryland's staff, it couldn't last any time at all; as soon as the Kentucky hats graced the Harrisons' heads, Dalonte Hill should've been on the phone with Roddy Peters or Bino Ranson to Rysheed Jordan. Despite trying to avoid going all-in on the twins, Maryland's staff has been more or less counting on the Harrisons for quite some time. And without them, there's a big, elite-point-guard-shaped hole keeping the Terrapins from possessing a truly top-tier roster.
Peters or Jordan, each of whom have been on Maryland's radar for months now, will be the likely candidates to fill that role. Peters is a local four-star who's always liked Maryland; Jordan is from Philly and slightly less-highly regarded, but not by much. Neither come close to the talent of the Harrisons, but both would be welcome additions to almost any program in the country.
To that point, though, Maryland's backed themselves in a slightly difficult situation. They made it clear that the Harrisons were their primary targets; even though the recruited both, it was obvious to anyone with eyes who they really wanted. In essence, they slow-played both Jordan and Peters. And Maryland, being not-Kentucky, can't really afford to do that without losing ground. To wit, Jordan has cancelled his Maryland Madness visit, opting to visit Syracuse instead, while Peters, once considered a Maryland lock if the Terrapins would have him, now has Kansas trailing him hard. Maryland was once considered the leader for both; now, they're arguably behind the eight ball in both circumstances.
Peters, in particular, will be an interesting case, because he seems to be the preference. A crafty ballhandler with good size, though perhaps not exactly a true point guard at this point in time, he blew up over the summer and drew all kinds of big interest. Kansas, in particular, put the full-court press on him lately, at the exact same time he probably started to realize that he was Maryland's Plan B. That's not a flattering or encouraging combination for Turgeon.
And yet there are still some encouraging factors. He's a local kid who seemed to love Maryland early in the process, for one. Just as importantly, he's a D.C. Assault and Under Armour guy, and at some point that whole brand thing has to work out in Maryland's favor. This is Dalonte Hill's wheelhouse; he's done good stuff to rebuild Maryland's D.C. relations, but at some points results have to be expected. Peters will be a good litmus test. But with Kansan stars in his eyes and the possibility of feeling somewhat spurned by Maryland, there is ground to make up.
Some are fretting over whether or not Mark Turgeon really played this right, given that Maryland wasted a ton of valuable resources and now find themselves squarely behind the eight-ball when it comes to filling their biggest need. I certainly sympathize with those concerns, and had Turgeon settled for Peters or Nate Britt right away, I wouldn't have had any problems with it.
But instead, Turge went for the home run ball. Sometimes you hit it, sometimes you miss it, but in this case the potential benefit was almost certainly worth the risk. The Harrisons had a National Title ceiling; missing them sets the long-term plan back, what, a year? He wanted to make a splash, and I don't blame it. It sucks a bit, but that's what happens in big boy recruiting.
Something less talked about but equally intriguing to me: they'll have another extra scholarship past landing just a point guard, which means there's another spot to be filled. That'll open up the way for some of Turgeon's roster creativity, which he's shown it in the past with landing transfers and bringing aboard Alex Len. Or perhaps he'll ante up the recruitment of some top-50 types that Maryland's tracked in the past: in particular, someone like Detrick Mostella, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, or Brandon Austin - all of them have been off the radar entirely, but with some more space, Maryland's staff has room to reassess things.
In many ways, this will be a more interesting test of Maryland's recruiting prowess than the Twins' recruitment was. Many of the best programs - think Kentucky, UNC, Duke, and so on - can offer a kid late and instantly be in the conversation; it's something Maryland's been on the wrong end of more than once. But it's also something that Turgeon will almost certainly have to attempt coming down the recruiting stretch this season. And Maryland leaping the likes of Syracuse, Kansas, Georgetown, Florida State, or Florida for a kid they slowplayed will tell us more about where Maryland stands in the recruiting world than the Twins' commitment would, even if the end result is less fulfilling.
I wouldn't say it's time to press the panic button, but Maryland's staff is certainly facing a more difficult situation that they'd prefer. That's not terrible; sometimes it's the way it goes when the stakes are this high. But for a program like Maryland, that's still unestablished as an elite recruiting presence, it can be a scary proposition.
It all boils down, I guess, to having faith in Mark Turgeon. Losing a recruiting fight to Kentucky for kids they really wanted isn't anything to be ashamed of. And from everything we've seen, there's no reason to doubt that his rebuild process will eventually be completed. It almost certainly will come more slowly, though, and with a more eclectic batch of recruits.
Buckle in again. Because the recovery process starts now.