The Senior Day that isn't

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Maryland will honor lone senior John Auslander on Sunday, but what about those other five freshmen who came to College Park in 2010?

In four years as a Maryland Terrapin, John Auslander has played a grand total of 127 minutes.

He's attempted 19 field goals and has 11 rebounds, two assists and a steal. He's also committed 18 fouls and eight turnovers.

Auslander's stats, however, are not important.

What's important is what he's done behind the scenes. Since Day 1, the 6-foot-7 forward out of Herndon, Va. has been lauded for his leadership and aptitude in practice and for working furiously with the scout team, Rudy-style, to try and make Maryland's more gifted players the best they can be when the TV cameras roll.

So here's to you, John Auslander. You wore the red, white, black & gold with honor. You worked hard in a thankless and mostly anonymous role. You earned the respect of your teammates. You began as a walk-on but got rewarded later with annual scholarships. We hear you're going to make a heck of a basketball coach and wish you success.

This Sunday, high noon, at Comcast Center, Auslander and his family will stand at center court for Senior Day prior to the Virginia game. He'll get a handshake from Mark Turgeon, maybe a hug, and he'll get a deservedly warm ovation from the crowd.

But unfortunately, Auslander will be the lone honoree. Why? Well, that's a story.

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To be honest, we were just excited in general.

Auslander arrived at Maryland back in 2010, prepared to sit out the season in order to regain eligibility after transferring from D3 Greensboro College. Terrapin icon Gary Williams was about to begin what would later become his final year as head coach, and six other Maryland newcomers joined Auslander on the Maryland roster.

Their names: Mychal Parker, Terrell Stoglin, Pe'Shon Howard, Haukur Palsson, Ashton Pankey and Berend Weijs.

Maryland fans were excited about all the new guys. To be honest, we were just excited in general. The Terps were coming off a 13-3 ACC campaign and an NCAA berth that ended in a soul-crushing loss at the buzzer to a Michigan State team that went on to the Final Four. Greivis Vazquez was gone, but Jordan Williams, Sean Mosley and Cliff Tucker were back. There was reason for optimism, and those six scholarship newcomers were a big part of it.

Parker and Stoglin were nice prospects, both listed in the Rivals 150. Howard was a solid 3-star point guard who moved from the west coast to Oak Hill Academy and who told everyone who would listen how excited he was to be a Terp. Palsson, a rare Icelandic prospect, came to Maryland from powerhouse national program Montverde Academy in Florida. Pankey was a 3-star forward from legendary St. Anthony (N.J.) High School.

Weijs was the gamble of the group, a skinny and unheralded JUCO center. Maryland probably guessed wrong on Weijs, but he played a small two-year role, graduated, and now plays pro ball in his native Netherlands. What's noteworthy here about Weijs is that he fulfilled his commitment to Maryland. Those other five guys? Not so much.

Stoglin quickly became a dynamic scorer and fan favorite but flamed out after two seasons, drawing a conduct-related one-year suspension, then leaving to turn pro. He was last seen playing in France but got cut in January.

Howard was also an early success, scoring a game-winning bucket in his debut, but he never really progressed and left after three seasons. Howard is averaging 11 points, four assists and three turnovers per game as a senior for a very bad USC team in the Pac-12.

Palsson, a tweener with the heart and style of a 4 but the body of a 3, was yet another freshman who became popular quickly thanks to some hard-nosed and fiery play, but he got homesick after one season and headed back overseas.

Pankey took an injury redshirt, then averaged about five points and five boards in his first season before transferring out. He's now playing a moderate role at Manhattan.

Five freshmen, five busts, five empty spaces on Senior Day
Finally, there was Parker, a tantalizing physical talent and the highest rated player in the Terps' class. The high-flyer was a disappointment who struggled through two seasons before leaving and eventually landing at NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) College.

So there you have it: five freshmen, five busts, five empty spaces on Senior Day where, in a parallel universe, there might otherwise stand an accomplished scholarship senior receiving the adoration of the Maryland faithful.

Instead, it's just going to be John Auslander.

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In chaos theory, there's a concept called "the butterfly effect." It essentially means that the tiniest of changes at one point in time can result in gigantic changes later on. It was also an underwhelming 2004 Ashton Kutcher movie, but that's not really relevant here.

Anyway, it's really easy to speculate on how different things might be today if Maryland had gone, say, 2-for-5 with those 2010 incoming freshmen instead of 0-for-5. Two hits and three misses -- that's not asking for too much out of a recruiting class, is it?

It's not a coincidence that this weekend's disappointing Senior Day -- the direct result of such a disappointing 2010 recruiting class -- is happening at the end of such a disappointing season.
Play make-believe with me for a moment. Looking at the 2010 Rivals 150, let's pretend the Terps landed #66 Eric Atkins (Notre Dame) instead of #60 Mychal Parker and #132 Lenzelle Smith Jr. (Ohio State) instead of #124 Terrell Stoglin. We're not asking for the moon here (DeMatha's Victor Oladipo was #144 that year and New Jersey prospect Dion Waiters was #32 but we'll leave them out of it).

Here's where the butterfly effect comes into play. While it's true that Mark Turgeon's experience might be vastly different right now if he had inherited a solid young point guard like Atkins or a sturdy young wing like Lenzelle Smith Jr. to build the program around, the conversation doesn't end there.

Does Gary Williams still retire in that scenario? Does Jordan Williams leave? Does Sterling Gibbs stay? Does Maryland still get Alex Len and Dez Wells? You can come up with 100 such questions, but in the end the things that really happened, really happened. There's not a lot to be gained from going over the what-ifs.

I would, however, like to make one point that I do not believe to be conjecture: It's not a coincidence that this weekend's disappointing Senior Day -- the direct result of such a disappointing 2010 recruiting class -- is happening at the end of such a disappointing season.

The 0-for-5 freshman class of 2010 hurt Mark Turgeon and Maryland in many, many ways, and this year's middling, .500-ish team is just one of them.

These last two Terps teams have had literally zero contributions from seniors (sorry, James Padgett), which is a shame because it means there were no real veteran role models for all those first- and second-year guys to learn from and look up to.

For the last four years, Maryland freshmen have repeatedly been thrown into the deep water.
And speaking of those young guys -- guys like Shaq Cleare, Charles Mitchell, Damonte Dodd and Roddy Peters -- they've been thrust into early playing time against big time competition, not because they were necessarily ready for it, but just because there's simply nobody else to do it.

For the last four years, Maryland freshmen have repeatedly been thrown into the deep water. They sometimes look like they're in over their heads, they struggle, they get frustrated, then the fans get frustrated. It's a self-perpetuating cycle doomed to recur, as Rust Cohle would probably say, but it might not have needed to happen if that 2010 class had bore fruit.

Ideally, talented, young, raw prospects like Cleare and Dodd can be granted the time and patience to develop behind the scenes. Allow me to offer an example:

One particularly memorable Senior Day from my own Maryland experience belonged to the great Tony Massenburg, who had barely poked his head out of the Cole Field House tunnel for pregame warmups in the spring of 1990 when the crowd erupted into a thunderous roar. Massenburg, startled by the frenzy he had set off, tried to play it cool and walk it off, but he just couldn't. He stopped, he put his head down, then he looked at us in the student section and broke into a wide smile. I don't remember who the Terps were playing that day or if they won or lost, but I'll never forget that smile, the love we showed Massenburg, or the love he showed us back.

Now, this is important: Massenburg was basking in the glow of a fanbase that had first met him four years earlier as a raw and skinny 2.9 PPG freshman who sat, watched and learned behind Len Bias and Derrick Lewis. When his time came, he was still an unknown, but he was ready. Tony Massenburg, though not really blessed with overt talent, evolved into a big, tough and hard-nosed senior who banged his way to 18 points and 10.1 rebounds a night. He went on to have a 15-year NBA career.

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Meanwhile, barring a miracle ACC run, Maryland probably won't even gather as a team when the NCAA and NIT fields are announced.
In NCAA basketball, if you aren't called "Kentucky," "Kansas," "Duke," or "North Carolina," then you probably need seniors to succeed.

No. 1 Florida and No. 22 Michigan State seem to be contenders every season and those two great programs have a way of recruiting in the sweet spot. They tend to land guys who become great four-year players -- but not so great that they depart early for the NBA.

This year's Gators start four seniors and seem destined to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans would be nowhere without two stalwart seniors, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling.

The examples don't end there.

No. 6 Villanova's leading scorer is senior James Bell.

No. 7 Syracuse lives and dies with senior C.J. Fair.

Our good friends at Virginia -- who ran away and hid with the regular season ACC title -- lean hard on seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Those two guys will be playing starring roles at Comcast on Sunday while Maryland honors its one scout team senior, John Auslander.

A week later, Harris and Mitchell will watch wide-eyed on Selection Sunday, waiting to learn their NCAA destination.

Meanwhile, barring a miracle ACC run, Maryland probably won't even gather as a team when the NCAA and NIT fields are announced.

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We want to matter. But it just isn't happening.
The Terps,who usually start three sophomores and two juniors, never put it together this season.

There were some definite lows, home losses to Boston U and Oregon State come to mind, and there weren't many highs -- unless looking valiant in defeat against ranked teams strikes your fancy.

No doubt, it's been a frustrating campaign. That's been evident here at Testudo Times, where we bicker about lineups, minutes, rotations and coaching decisions. We watch this team, game in and game out, and we see unpolished young big men, we see shooting guards forced to play the point, we see stretch forwards who neither shoot nor rebound with any consistency.

We want these guys to succeed so badly. We want to win big games. We want to matter. But it just isn't happening.

So we wait.

Some of us are waiting for one final run in Greensboro. Some of us are waiting for a coaching change. Some of us are waiting for Romelo Trimble and the 2015 recruiting class.

And some of us -- like me -- are simply waiting for next season. That's when key players Dez Wells, Evan Smotrycz, Nick Faust and Jonathan Graham will all be seniors, and they'll be leading a team loaded with experienced upperclassmen playing vital roles.

The following year, four Terps -- Seth Allen, Shaq Cleare, Jake Layman and Charles Mitchell -- who each already have tons of experience and huge roles even though they're only sophomores, are slated to be seniors.

So I'm here today to make you a promise: Senior Day is going to be a lot different starting next year.

This year's Senior Day feels like the end of a journey. Next year's will only be the beginning.
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