It's the annual refrain for all sports fans. Besides European soccer, there's only one team that ends the season with a title and a trophy. "Next year," can mean many different things. For the runner-up it's the knowledge that there is a foundation or system in place that knows how to get within reach of the ultimate prize. For the last place team it's the notion that it can't get any worse.
The current iteration of Maryland basketball is neither of those. This is not a team, barring a Valvanistic (copyrighted) run, that will win a national title. This is also not a bad team, regardless of how it feels to watch them sometimes. The 2013-2014 men's hoops season will likely be remembered as a disappointment that was constantly this close. Your daily reminder that they were an average of four points away from beating Connecticut, Oregon State, Boston University, Pittsburgh (away), Virginia (away), Duke (away), Syracuse and Clemson (away). Had they won just five of those nine, they would be sitting at 21-10 with at a few quality wins, and squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. None of that matters in the end, but to find the true nature of this year's team, it's important to look past the record.
As the season was collapsing into mediocrity those that follow basketball recruiting became the "next year" banner holders.
"Just wait," they would say, "the present may be disappointing but the future is bright."
But how much do you really know about The Future of Maryland Basketball? The 2014 recruiting class will inarguably be the most important in a decade. A coach's job and the future of a program might rest in their hands.
Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens and Trayvon Reed, a four man class ranked 10th in the nation. Let's look a little deeper.
Melo Trimble: The Centerpiece
Melo Trimble committed to Maryland almost 15 months ago, in December of 2012. He's been part of the Terp fan consciousness for so long, it seems impossible that he still hasn't played a single game for the program. When he committed he was still a fairly under the radar talent, with his best offers from the likes of Cincinnati, UMass, George Mason, Villanova and Xavier. That was in the middle of his junior season, when he was making the transition from shooting guard to point guard.
What happened next? An explosion. Trimble lead his O'Connell team to the WCAC title, scoring 33 points in the championship game. Over the summer he blew away scouts at AAU tournaments and showcases, starring for D.C. Assault. His 247 rating grew from the low to high 90s. He was even better as a senior, winning WCAC Player of the Year and scoring title (23 points per game) in one of the best high school basketball conferences in the nation. His rise capped off with a selection to the prestigious McDonald's All American team, one of 24 players selected.
It shouldn't surprise anyone if Trimble is the Terrapins staring point guard for the first game of next season. It's not out of the question that, barring injury, he is the starting point guard every game for the next four years. That is the kind of talent we are talking about with Trimble. He has everything you want in a college point guard: poise, leadership, command of the offense, strength, toughness, savvy and shooting. He's not a flashy passer or elite athlete, but he'll defer when he needs to, take over when he needs to and is capable of making big shots at the end of games. Sound like someone this team could have used?
I usually preach patience and tempered expectations when it comes to freshmen, but I think it's okay to get very excited for Trimble.
Dion Wiley: The Forgotten One
While Trimble is the centerpiece of the class now, it is important to remember that when Dion Wiley committed in June of 2013 he was a 5-star recruit according to ESPN. At the time it was Wiley, not Trimble, that fans were lauding as the next great Terp. Through little fault of his own Wiley has dropped slightly in the rankings, and is now a 4-star on every service. He battled through injuries most of his senior season, but when he was healthy he showed why he is an elite talent.
The first thing to know about Wiley is that he's an absolutely deadly shooter. For a period of a few weeks during the AAU circuit over the summer he was shooting the three at around a seventy percent clip. Not only can he hit open shots, he has the ability to create space and knock them down over defenders hands. Besides the shooting he's known as a very good passer and possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor, get to the hoop and finish around bigger bodies. Wiley's weaknesses lie in his lack of elite quickness or the pogo-stick athleticism of some other highly rated shooting guards.
Unlike Trimble, I'd be surprised if Wiley started a single game as a freshman. It'll be a transition from the PG County public school league to the Big Ten, but his game translates well. I would be more worried if he relied too much on this athleticism, but that's not his style at all. He'll be an offensive weapon and zone buster that Maryland can bring along slowly.
Trayvon Reed: The Big Guy
The loss of Alex Len to the NBA last offseason set Maryland back more than most fans realized at the time. The 7-footer covered up a lot of problems, both offensively and defensively, that have plagued the Terps throughout the season. If Trayvon Reed can provide just fraction of 2012-13 Len next season the team will benefit greatly.
Reed committed to Maryland somewhat out of the blue in August of 2013. He had been a major target, but the scuttlebutt in recruiting circles was that local big man Chinanu Onuaku was on the verge of pledging for Maryland. Reed visited College Park on August 21st and, perhaps feeling the pressure of Onuaku, committed the next day.
The word on Reed at the time was that he was very tall (duh), a good defender, could dunk, but that was about it. "Raw" and "skinny" were the terms used the most. I scouted him in January and came away with the same conclusions. According to a Baltimore Sun article in January, Reed has improved his offensive game while working with his high school coach Pervis Ellison. He's added some post moves and apparently has a little midrange jumper. We'll find out soon if his newly found offensive success is just a product of being the tallest guy on the court every game or a real, concrete improvement.
His defense stuck out to me the most when I scouted him and that's where I see him making the most impact from Day One at Maryland. He's probably a better one-on-one defender already than Len ever was as a Terp, and at about the same level as a shot blocker. He has major bounce and will be able to get most of the rebounds that comes his way, offensive and defensive.
I really have no idea what to expect production and minutes wise out of Reed as a freshman. I wouldn't be surprised if he was the starting center for a majority of the season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he averaged 10-12 minutes a game. I tend to think the center position will be somewhat of a revolving door next season, but the opportunity is there for him to seize the spot.
Jared Nickens: The Wildcard
That was the reaction from many Maryland fans when Jared Nickens committed to the Terrapins in June of 2013. The skinny wing was barely a 3-star, if evaluated at all, and getting offers from such programs as Hofstra, Oregon State, Iona and Miami. Within a month he rose to a 94 rating on 247 Sports, and into the composite top 100.
The first word on Nickens was that he was a sniper from the outside, but one-dimensional. He's played for three different high schools and struggled to find a fit before landing at Westtown in Pennsylvania, where he's thrived. When I saw him play against Reed's Life Center Academy team he had an off-shooting game, but it was easy to tell that he'd worked hard on diversifying his offensive game. He put the ball on the floor and drove to the rim more than I anticipated. His jump shot wasn't falling in the first half, but the mechanics were perfect and he stuck with it until he got a few to go in the second half. He's a streaky shooter, but when he's on he's lethal.
In my opinion Nickens is very underrated defensively. Since he put on weight he's been able to use his strength and length (he's 6-6) to bother smaller wings. His athleticism is also deceptive. This game in San Diego was one of the best of his season, and came against 5-star UNC signee Theo Pinson. Check out the dunk at the 27 second mark.
With Maryland's depth at the wing next season, he'll likely be competing for minutes with Jake Layman, Dez Wells, Nick Faust and the higher regarded Wiley. That said, if could look into a crystal ball and tell me that four years from now he would be the best or second best player from the 2014 class, I wouldn't be surprised. Nickens has improved so much in his last year of high school and should continue that with college conditioning coaches and resources.
If these four players perform up to the their potential, they'll form one of the best cores in B1G basketball. It may be be cliche, but just wait 'till next year.