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Three takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball media day

The Terps are optimistic ahead of the 2020-21 season despite losing several key players.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland men’s basketball held its annual media day on Tuesday as the team nears the outset of the 2020-21 season.

Head coach Mark Turgeon and players spoke to media members over Zoom about where the Terps stand and how they’re preparing for the upcoming season under COVID-19 restrictions.

With the opening game of the season just two weeks away, here are the biggest takeaways from the event.

Maryland has a new leadership corps this season

After losing key leaders from a season ago in top scorers Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, this year’s team will be guided by a set of new players stepping into larger roles.

At the forefront of the Terps’ new leadership structure is senior guard Darryl Morsell, who enters his final year with the program.

“I’ve been through everything imaginable that you can see in college,” Morsell said. “I think I’ve seen everything. Ain’t nothing that I haven’t seen or been a part of. So I think I am prepared to lead this team.”

Alongside Morsell are Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins, two junior guards who have played a significant role with the team since their freshman seasons. With the starting point guard spot vacated by Cowan, Ayala is expected to inherit a much larger share of ball-handling and scoring responsibilities this season.

However, Ayala has also made a commitment to being someone that other players can rely on on the court, using his experience playing next to a player like Cowan for two seasons to try to become a lead guard himself.

“[I’m] just trying to lead by example, as much as I can,” Ayala said. “In practice, you know, just trying to to be more vocal. The young guys, they’re very talented we’re going to need them a lot.”

Wiggins will also look to take on a larger role this season as well, as the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year will be at the forefront of what figures to be a guard-heavy rotation for the 2020-21 Terps. He emphasized his willingness to be vocal at all times around his teammates and to make sure everyone is locked in mentally, with doing whatever it takes to help his team as his primary mentality.

The Terps have trust in their front-court

Without the luxury of having a Bruno Fernando or Jalen Smith to rely on inside, Maryland enters this season with some uncertainty in the front-court for the first time in a few seasons.

Turgeon has a host of options to choose from, with many of the new faces brought in over the offseason immediately pushing for playing time. Those newcomers include freshman transfer forwards Galin Smith (Alabama) and Jairus Hamilton (Boston College), each of whom brings years of experience on the floor to the Terps interior this season.

“Galin is going to be huge for us in the paint, I mean his ability to post-up, set screens and his size, and athleticism, he’ll be really good for us,” Wiggins said. “And I think of Jairus, I mean with his body, he can play literally the one through the four. He can guard, he can move his feet, and I mean, he can score at will with his size and skill set.”

Among the familiar options in the front-court this season are sophomore forwards Donta Scott and Chol Marial, two distinctly different players that each bring unique qualities to the floor for the Terps. Though Scott has already cut his teeth with the team, appearing in all 31 games in 2019-20 with 21 starts, the 7’2 Marial’s development from an injury-riddled last few years, between high school and college, to his sophomore season will be interesting to watch.

Marial and Smith will see the most minutes at center, with Hamilton and Scott at the four. Maryland also added 6’10 freshman Arnuad Revas from Switzerland, but he isn’t expected to see much playing time.

Turgeon said he expects the team to have to be able to use Morsell at his traditional position, given its wide range of options at forward, and has the ability to play small ball with Hamilton or Scott at the five if need be.

“We’re a lot stronger at the four and I feel like we have two centers that kind of complement each other and can work well together,” Turgeon said. “We feel good about our front-court. There’s no Bruno, there’s no [Jalen Smith]. Those guys are special. But we have some guys that are really good players that are going to get better and better.”

Freshmen will take a share of ball-handling duties

With the departure of a ball-dominant presence like Cowan, a sizable portion of Maryland’s ball-handling duties is up for grabs coming into this season.

Turgeon said he doesn’t expect one player to fill that role, with Ayala expected to take a lot of the responsibility alongside freshmen Aquan Smart and Marcus Dockery. Both first-year guys have taken to playing with the ball their hands in the team’s early practice runs, looking to take some of the ballhandling weight off Ayala.

“It’s been fun, you know, just having two people that can handle the ball,” Ayala said of the pair. “Just watching them grow every day, you know, they’ve done a lot better from their first day here. And, you know, it’s exciting to watch them get better.”

Despite the daunting task of fulfilling a large role so early in their careers, the freshmen guard tandem appears to be up to the challenge. Having already developed a close bond off the court, Smart and Dockery feel they complement each other’s game well and can exploit opposing defenses effectively.

“I see a big chemistry do between us two,” Dockery said. “I love the fact that he’s always finding the right spot on the floor to get the shots that I like. And I can do the same thing for him in terms of when they close out on me ... things like that, that other teams wouldn’t expect us to do because they didn’t know we had that chemistry. And it means a lot to me that we have that chemistry as to being the two freshmen coming in.”