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Three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball media day

The Terps are looking forward to the 2021-22 season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland men’s basketball held its annual media day on Tuesday as it gets set to tip off the 2021-22 season in less than a month.

Head coach Mark Turgeon as well as the rest of the coaching staff and players spoke to the media about the upcoming season. The Terps also held an open practice.

With Maryland’s second official practice of the season complete, here are the biggest takeaways from the event.

The Terps pride themselves on the chemistry they’ve built.

The Maryland men’s basketball team is filled with newcomers, both players and coaches. However, it seems that in the offseason, the unit built chemistry on and off the court.

Junior forward Donta Scott and graduate transfer guard Fatts Russell played in high school together at Imhotep High School in Philadelphia. Junior guard Hakim Hart also went to high school in Philadelphia and although senior guard Eric Ayala grew up in Delaware, he has a connection with Russell.

Both Ayala and Scott touched upon the fact that the team spends time together off the court whether that’s playing video games, watching movies or just hanging out.

Beyond that, Maryland brought in two new assistant coaches in Danny Manning and Bruce Shingler.

Manning and Turgeon played basketball together in Kansas in the late 1980s and now that chemistry is reignited, this time from the sidelines.

“It’s always nice to spend time with individuals that are in the profession that have the same dedication, as you have,” Manning said. “And our only goal is to help them and be successful as possible and continue to follow the directions of Coach Turge.”

Shingler, who most recently spent five seasons as an assistant coach at South Carolina, returned home to the DMV after growing up in Bladensburg, Maryland.

The Prince George’s County native is one of the younger components of the coaching staff and with that, he’s taken it upon himself to learn from Turgeon, Manning and assistant coach Matt Brady who have all had head coaching experience at one point or another.

“I’m just a sponge and I’m around a great group of guys and basketball junkies that love the game, and we got a no ego attitude,” Shingler said. “You know, we’re here to help and it’s from recruiting from getting guys better. We all win when the team wins.”

This year’s team is older and filled with experience.

Coming into the season, just three of Maryland’s 16-person roster have not played in an NCAA game before. On top of that seven players are juniors in college or older.

The Terps are returning leaders in Ayala and Scott. Ayala tested out the NBA Draft waters but ultimately withdrew and decided to return to College Park for his senior year.

The guard led the Terps in scoring last season averaging 15.1 points per game while shooting about 44% from the field. His performance earned him All-Big Ten honorable mention.

“You got all the returning players,” Turgeon said. “Donta has gotten a lot better, Eric’s gotten a lot, Eric is humbled through the NBA process so he’s hungry.”

Scott is returning for his third season with the Terps and led the team shooting 49.8% from the field and 43.8% from deep. Scott has continued to emerge as a leader for Maryland, both vocally and by example.

Maryland is also returning Hart who made an appearance in 31 games last season including 19 starts.

Although he is on the younger side of the roster along with fellow freshmen Julian Reese and sophomore Pavlo Dziuba who turned 18 over the summer, the Terps have freshman guard/forward James Graham III, who enrolled early last season, returning.

Graham saw action in eight games last season and transformed in the offseason to become a more versatile player. He lost a little over 30 pounds since first arriving in Maryland.

This weight loss has allowed Graham to play the two and the three and improve his defensive skills.

“I was a bad defender and now that’s probably the best part about my game, is my defense,” Graham said. “So, I say [the weight loss] definitely changed my game tremendously and it’s really allowed me to become a better player.”

The Terps also have veteran players with collegiate basketball experience in Russell, forwards Qudus Wahab and Simon Wright and guards Ian Martinez and Xavier Green, as well as forward Arnaud Revaz who saw action in five games as a freshman.

Wahab is coming off a season in which he made the All-Big East Tournament Team after his performance with Georgetown. Wahab led the Hoyas in rebounds with 8.2 per game, double-doubles with eight and blocks with 1.6. His 12.7 points per game ranked second on the team.

Martinez joins the Terps from Utah. He averaged 5.2 points per game and jumped up in the final six games averaging 9.7 per game while Wright transferred from Elon where he averaged 5.1 points and 2.9 boards per game during the 2020-21 season.

Green is a graduate student who transferred from Old Dominion. During the most recent season, he hit the 1,000 career point mark while averaging 6.7 per game. Green helped lead the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010-11 in 2018-19.

Maryland has no shortage of players with NCAA experience as it heads into this season and that may pay dividends in a talented Big Ten conference.

Hakim Hart has put in the work.

Hart significantly improved between his freshman and sophomore seasons and it appears he will make yet another jump his junior year.

In his first year with the Terps, the Philadelphia native was averaging 1.6 points and 6.3 minutes per game. Fast forward to the 2020-21 season, Hart appeared in all 31 games, started in over half of them and averaged 7.1 points, 3.5 boards and 1.9 assists.

Hart had a career-high game in his first start against Saint Peter’s when he scored 32 points while hitting 11 of his 13 attempted shots.

Now, as Hart prepares to enter his third season as a Terp, the emphasis has been on his transformation. Turgeon explained at the beginning of media day that Hart put on 15 pounds of muscle in the off-season.

Last season, Hart was listed on the roster at 6-foot-6 and now he’s at 6-foot-8.

However, it’s not just his physical appearance that stands out to those around him, it’s the work ethic and dedication that Hart has put in to improve his game.

“Hakim Hart. He’s just been one guy that stuck out to me,” Shingler said. “He’s grown a little bit, he’s matured his game, he’s been an everyday guy putting in the extra work. He looks like ‘I’m trying to be a starter in the Big Ten.’”