Maryland men’s basketball kicks off its 2018-19 season Tuesday night, when the Terps welcome Delaware to the Xfinity Center. It’s a team entering the season with one senior, one junior, three sophomores and six scholarship freshmen.
There are two known stalwarts on the team: junior point guard Anthony Cowan and sophomore center Bruno Fernando. Sophomore wing Darryl Morsell is a game-tested jump shot away from joining that list; he’s close after nailing two first-half threes in an exhibition win over Lynn University. Outside of that, much of the production this year will have to come from the rookies.
Head coach Mark Turgeon managed to sign the No. 7-ranked class in the nation and the top class in the Big Ten. It marks both Turgeon’s highest-ranked and largest recruiting class at Maryland, and almost all of the rookies will end up playing significant minutes and roles this season.
“Sometimes young guys don’t know, they just go out and play. Let’s hope they continue to think that way,” Turgeon said at media day. “We believe in them and they believe in us. There’s a lot of talent there and they’re very confident, so I think it will translate for them.”
This is a class that, by all accounts, has meshed together quickly and seamlessly. Helped by a trip to Italy, attended by all but late-summer addition Ricky Lindo, and team outings like paintball, the freshmen were able to bond and build chemistry before the games start to count.
“We’ve grown really close as a team, and as teammates on and off the court,” wing Aaron Wiggins told Testudo Times at Media Day. “Just from every single little bit of hangout sessions that we’ve had, especially Italy. During Italy we learned a lot, having fun off the court, travelling, seeing a bunch of places. We learned a lot about each other’s personalities, the way each other thinks, and everybody’s habits both on and off the court.”
Another thing each of the freshmen have developed early on is a confidence that translates to selflessness. Despite their age, each member exudes such a confidence in their ability that it’s believable when they express a willingness to do whatever Turgeon desires. They just want to win.
With all that in mind, lets get familiar with this year’s freshman class, in order of composite ranking:
Jalen“Sticks” Smith, Power Forward/Center, 6’10/215, No. 25
Nicknamed “Sticks” for his wiry frame, Smith is the crown jewel of the class. He’s added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame since getting to campus, and while he’s admittedly still getting used to the weight, he says his body feels great. The five-star Baltimore native will rejoin Morsell, his former Mount Saint Joseph teammate, in College Park. Smith will primarily play power forward for the Terps, starting next to Bruno Fernando, but was named to the watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the best center in the nation.
Having Smith and Fernando in the frontcourt will open up some high-low looks for Maryland, as the McDonald’s All-American has legitimate three-point range. Smith knocked in two three-pointers as part of a 22-point, six-rebound performance in the exhibition win, while Fernando nailed a three of his own. They also form an imposing back line on defense, as their length and shot-blocking prowess could work to cover up some mistakes on that end. The two have already formed some chemistry, and for all the (legitimate) concern about big-man depth, could end up as one of the better frontcourts in the Big Ten.
“I think it’s going to be tough for teams to guard us this year, because they’re going to have to choose who they’re going to play,” Smith said. “We’re going to click together. So it’s like I’m going to be looking for [Fernando], he’s going to be looking for me, then we’re going be looking other people. So it’s just going to open up a lot of space for our team.”
Aaron Wiggins, Wing, 6’6/200, No. 2
The North Carolina native is the unofficial spokesperson of the class, as its first commit and the most forthcoming of the group. A four-star signee coached by former Terp Keith Gatlin, Wiggins is a multi-faceted sharpshooter. After his senior season, he was an entrant in both the McDonald’s All-American and Iverson Roundball three-point contests and was the one-on-one champion at the Roundball Classic. He also lit it up and took home the MVP at the Capital Classic in April.
Wiggins seems likely to play the role Kevin Huerter left vacant. He and Eric Ayala are the strongest candidates for the final starting slot along with Cowan, Morsell, Smith and Fernando. Wiggins started in Maryland’s secret scrimmage win over George Mason, according to a source, and again in the exhibition game. He finished the win over Lynn with 13 points, and adds another player that can create their own shot alongside Cowan. He could also potentially be a plug-and-score player, as one of the first off the bench.
“I think whatever I bring to the table will complement our team,” Wiggins said. “If that’s me getting up and down the court hitting shots, rebounding and doing everything that coach asks, that’s what I’ll do, regardless of what it is.”
Eric Ayala, Guard, 6’5/205, No. 5
Another four-star commit, Ayala comes to College Park by way of collegiate athlete factory IMG Academy. His prep year at IMG makes him a year older than the rest of the class, and he spent the two prior years doing prep at Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut giving him maturity and experience away from home. Prior to college, he was billetted as a combo guard, but in actuality he’s much closer to a pure point with his pass-first mentality.
There was also talk at Media Day about Ayala being the best passer on the team, and it doesn’t appear to be exaggeration. At Maryland Madness, he dazzled with his multiple no-look assists. He’s the type of player that would benefit Maryland’s offense whether he starts, reprising the role Cowan played next to Melo Trimble his freshman season, or comes off the bench, running the second team offense. He played the second team general at the exhibition and finished with nine points, three assists and three steals.
“Eric is just a special player that you can move him on the ball or off the ball, and he can just be effective in either way,” Cowan said. “Coach Turgeon always talks about how he likes point guards on his team, and I think when it’s point guards on your team it just makes the offense and it makes the whole game so easy.”
Serrel “Stones” Smith, Guard, 6’4/170, No. 10
Our board has taken to calling the other Smith in this class “Stones” to Jalen’s “Sticks.” It’s also an apt comparison for his game. The St. Petersburg, Florida, native was a Mr. Basketball Finalist in his home state after averaging 29.3 points a game and taking his team to the state semifinals. Smith has supreme confidence in his abilities on the offensive end. With a tight handle and a quick release, a poor man’s Jamal Crawford is the easiest comparison. The three-star signee originally pledged to Ole Miss, but received a release from his Letter of Intent after Andy Kennedy announced his intent to resign.
“I fit in pretty well with the style of play,” Smith told Testudo Times back in April at the Classic. “A lot of screen-and-rolls, getting up a lot of shots, I’m built for that.”
Smith’s an adept scorer who should bring playmaking for the Terps off the bench from either guard position. In years past, Turgeon’s offenses have stagnated with its primary ballhandler on the bench. Hopefully, Smith can help break that cycle, but don’t be surprised if there are games where he goes goes cold. He’s still a little streaky at his point in his development, and consistency will likely be a sticking point for him early on. Smith finished with four points on 2-of-5 shooting against Lynn, with a dunk and a pull-up jumper. Both Turgeon and Morsell mentioned he’s already becoming a better defender, and with his length, that can only be a positive.
Trace Ramsey, Forward, 6’7/200, No. 24
Ramsey’s recruitment was relatively quick, as Maryland was the only high-major to offer him when he committed in late April. He was unranked at the time, but eventually garnered a three-star rating. He spent a prep year at Don Bosco after playing high school ball at Valparaiso High School in Indiana. He’s been a pregame highlight reel between the Italy trip and Maryland Madness, tossing down 360s and windmills left and right.
Ramsey’s athletic, but he’s rail thin. He’ll fight for minutes early at the three with Lindo, behind Morsell and Wiggins, but is also the most likely to redshirt from the class. He doesn’t appear to be a day one contributor and played just under three minutes at the exhibition despite the runaway score. When he committed, it was mostly seen as a developmental addition, but that was when there was more depth in the frontcourt (more on that in a second). Necessity may push him into time at the four, but he doesn’t figure to be as much of a factor right away.
Ricky Lindo, Forward, 6’8/ 200, No. 14
After center Schnider Herard opted to search for professional opportunities late in the summer, Turgeon needed a player that could play some frontcourt minutes. Enter Lindo, a teammate of 2019 commits Makhi and Makhel Mitchell. Lindo is a wiry, athletic player who was previously getting prepared for a prep year, but was able to reclassify back to 2018 after helping the DC Premier to the Under Armour Association Championship.
“It was kind of an instant click,” Lindo said of his connection with the team. “I didn’t go to Italy with them, but I was here after. ... Before they went to Italy, I visited, so we kind of bonded a little bit before that. So it was a good transition overall.”
Lindo’s a late bloomer who grew from 6’0 to 6’6 his tenth grade summer, and added another couple inches since. In person, he’s not much shorter than Sticks, and it’s easy to envision him in a hybrid forward role, sliding between the 3 and the 4. Lindo has a slight frame, also like Smith, and faces a learning curve in the Big Ten and college basketball as a whole. Lindo is likely to primarily battle redshirt sophomore Joshua Tomaic and, to a lesser extent, Ivan Bender for frontcourt minutes, and played a little less than 16 minutes in the exhibition. In that time, he had four points, three rebounds, a steal and four fouls. He’ll have to play through mistakes, but it seems like he’ll get the minutes to do so.