When Anthony Cowan Jr. first arrived in College Park, he was part of a sizeable freshman class. Maryland basketball had brought in two other four-star recruits in Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson. All three blue-chip rookies would be fixtures in the starting lineup that season, averaging double-digit points in support of Melo Trimble.
Two years later, Cowan is the only member of that freshman trio that remains. Jackson was long expected to leave for the pros this summer, and did so even after injuring his labrum last season, while Huerter played his way into a first-round selection by the Atlanta Hawks. As a result, Cowan has twice as many career starts as anyone else on this year’s team.
The leadership role won’t be a new one for Cowan, who took over the offense after Trimble left for the pros in 2017. But this Maryland team is so young—one senior, one junior, three sophomores and six freshmen on scholarship—that he’ll also be counted on as a mentor and leader by example.
“It’s just my job,” Cowan said at Maryland’s media day last week. “Last year I was given the keys, and now I’ve just got to keep going with it this year and just make sure I’m doing the right thing [because] I’ve got younger dudes looking up to me.”
Cowan averaged 15.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game last season while averaging an insane 37 minutes per game (38.9 in conference play). While the addition of combo guard Eric Ayala might help keep Cowan’s workload more manageable, he’s still the most established offensive weapon Maryland has. The Terps will need both scoring and facilitating from him, but they’re confident he’s improved in both realms.
“He had a great freshman and sophomore year—he’s going to put up incredible numbers,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “But what he’s done since the last couple weeks preparing for Italy and the start of the season, I think you guys will appreciate just how far he’s come as a leader and passer and facilitator, but also as a dynamic scorer for us.”
Part of the growing progress has been Cowan’s mannerisms on the court. When things didn’t go his way last season—missing a key shot or getting whistled for a foul—he grew visibly frustrated. Cowan knows his teammates will feed off his body language this year, and like any aspect of the game, it’s not something that can be improved overnight. This has been a focus in every practice leading up to the season.
“We really talked about body language. We showed him some different things. We talked about it a lot,” Turgeon said. “He has changed. Will he have body language at times when he goes in, thinks he gets fouled, didn’t get the call or whatever? I’m sure we’ll see it, but [he’s a] totally different kid, and I think he likes the new Anthony. Now, practice is scripted, there’s no one in the stands, we’re not on the road, so we’ll see, but I think it’s a comfort level he has with his teammates too.”
Cowan’s teammates certainly trust him, and spoke glowingly of his maturation at media day. Sophomore center Bruno Fernando called Cowan the one player he enjoys competing against in practice (even though the two are often on the same teams in scrimmages) because “he makes me better in a lot of ways that he probably doesn’t even notice.”
“He’s never been a vocal individual. This year, he’s leading huddles, leading stuff off the court—everything we do, he’s the voice behind it,” said sophomore guard Darryl Morsell, who played AAU ball with Cowan before Maryland. “And that leadership off the court is carrying on the court.”
Cowan’s mission, of course, is to lead the Terps back to the NCAA Tournament and beyond after missing the postseason in 2017-18. Maryland’s 19-13 campaign was littered with close losses, and his struggles with games on the line were certainly part of that. Cowan still remembers the feeling of not seeing Maryland’s name called on Selection Sunday, and he wants that feeling to linger and serve as motivation.
“A lot of people always can say at the end of the season to not worry about it and there’s always next season,” Cowan said. “But I think for us, for the returning guys, to try to harp on the younger guys that we didn’t make the tournament last year, so stuff has to change around here, and things are definitely starting to change in terms of culture and everyone just being bought in.”