Maryland men’s basketball media day took place Tuesday afternoon at the Xfinity Center, as the team officially ramps up for the 2019-20 season.
Head coach Mark Turgeon spoke to the media for over 20 minutes, discussing what he’s seen from the team in the early goings of practice and how much this group can achieve throughout the year.
Following an open practice session, almost all players on the roster were available for interviews. Here were the biggest takeaways from the day’s events.
This team is here to win
When Anthony Cowan Jr. put his name in the NBA Draft pool alongside Bruno Fernando, it meant that Maryland men’s basketball was temporarily without its two biggest leaders. Of course, Cowan came back — though Fernando did not — for his fourth and final season with the Terps.
The decision to return to college is speculated to be a result of his professional prospects perhaps being less than stellar, but according to Cowan and Turgeon, there’s a different reason.
“I want to win, that’s been my main goal this whole time,” Cowan said. “They can say it’s all about the points and assists, but at the end of the day we haven’t won anything so we have to get that.“
Jalen Smith, who many saw as a potential first-round pick, didn’t even consider the draft, immediately opting to return for his sophomore season. He said he was motivated by the loss to LSU and the whole experience of the NCAA Tournament last year, and it clearly still sticks with him to this day.
“I go back and watch film of that game pretty much every day and night all by myself, just looking at how I played and how I want to change myself and how I want to put myself in better positions,” Smith said. “I pretty much based that [my offseason work] off that whole game.”
The duo and the team are definitely in a potential position to make a long run in March, as the Terps are an unanimous top-10 team in the preseason and have depth for days (more on that below).
Aaron Wiggins and Jalen Smith are becoming leaders
Bruno Fernando was a leader for Maryland. Whether it was on or off the court, the Angolan native provided a huge boost to the rest of the team. Not only was he extremely talented, but his boisterous attitude was contagious and spread its way around the entire squad.
“Bruno was loud,” sophomore forward/center Jalen Smith said Tuesday.
That left a sizable gap on the court for someone to take the reins and be a leader, both a physical and mental one, for the Terps. It seems as though a pair of sophomores have stepped up to help take that role.
When asked who was being that energetic guy in practice so far, Turgeon first pointed out Aaron Wiggins, saying he is “the most outgoing guy that we have.”
“I’m just trying to be an example for the freshman, the younger guys,” Wiggins said. “Just getting in the gym early, being vocal, telling guys their spots they need to be in, telling guys they need to lock in and just trying to be that energy guy.”
Wiggins, a guard/forward, has also been helped by Smith, who is the main option down low.
“I think [Smith] really stepped up as a leader,” Cowan said. “Bruno was a really key part of our team in terms of leadership. [Smith] really stepped up into that part, and that really helped us a lot.”
How did Smith get the ability to lead the team? He learned it from Fernando, of course.
“I’m pretty much just showing them what Bruno showed me,” Smith said. “The ways around the court, what it should be positioning, and just being that enthusiastic guy yelling, screaming, pushing the team to get better.”
Depth is going to be huge
Last season, Maryland was mainly locked into an eight-man rotation, as nobody outside the starters and first three bench spots got consistent run throughout the season.
Five of those players were freshman who were still adjusting a new level of competition, and the lack of reliable options forced a number of inexperienced guys to get more playing time than expected. That won’t be the case this year, as the Terps have a multitude of options ready to go at any time.
“I would probably say it’s my deepest team,” Turgeon said. “I think two or three guys have separated themselves as great players, and I think four through 11, they’re kind of all the same, but they’re all really good players, and so that’s great depth. I think there’ll be times in games this year where we sub and we get better, and that hasn’t always been the case.”
There is still going to be a main rotation of players, likely a group of nine or 10 options, but the Terps believe that this year’s bench is filled with an abundance of talent and anyone can step onto the court at any time and contribute.
“The way that we were able to sub in and out and still execute plays and talk defensively and have the same amount of energy as a team on both ends is a huge difference compared to last year,” Wiggins said. “Last year, not having as much depth as we do this year. I mean, we got 15, 16 players. We can rotate 12 guys, it’s actually insane.”
Other things of note
- We got a Chol Marial update. Turgeon said that freshman Chol Marial just had his six week checkup post-surgery as he deals with a stress fracture in both legs. He will have another appointment on Nov. 25, and at that point he could possibly be cleared to play.
- Eric Ayala has some bounce in his step. Eric Ayala made his mark as a freshman last year as a shooter and facilitator on the wing, hitting over 40 percent of his three point attempts while finishing second on the team in assists per game.
But from what we saw on Tuesday, it seems that Ayala is ready to become more aggressive in attacking inside and finishing at the rim after he says he lost over 20 pounds.
- This freshmen class brings physicality. In a conference like the Big Ten, it’s vital that a team can be physical down low and contend with oversized forwards and strong centers in the post. Fernando was a big part of that interior presence last year, but with him gone, there could be a hole.
According to Turgeon, the freshman class has been extremely physical early on in practice, and that could be a big boost to the team as the season begins and conference play approaches. And it’s clear they came in with much larger frames than the 2018 class after practice.