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How Maryland men’s basketball is adjusting to an abrupt end to the 2019-20 season

The Terps — like many teams and the rest of the nation — are adapting to the circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Turgeon, Anthony Cowan Jr, embrace, Big Ten title, Michigan, 2020 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Maryland men’s basketball head coach Mark Turgeon woke up early Saturday morning, suddenly without much to do. Up until less than a week prior, he was expecting to be in Indianapolis preparing his Terps for a Big Ten semifinal matchup — if they got past the quarterfinal Friday night.

But with all sports canceled amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Turgeon instead got to work in his Kensington, Maryland, home. First, he cleaned out a closet. Then, a storage room. After he completed both tasks and worked out, he checked the time to see it was only 10:30 a.m.

“I was just like, ‘Ok, this isn’t gonna work,’” Turgeon said on the phone Monday.

This would normally be one of the busiest times of the year for the head coach as he and his team embarked into the winding waters of March Madness. At a time of year when he is normally thrust under the biggest spotlight, Turgeon finds himself in the same humbling position as most people around the United States; coming to terms with social distancing, complete with an abundance of free time and an underlying feeling of discomfort — this isn’t anyone’s normal.

But for Turgeon and the Terps, like many teams across the country, there is an extra level of hurt that comes with these strange days. Seasons have been cut short with everyone left wondering what could have been.

Maryland coaches and players gathered for a team meeting Friday. It was meant to be a time to to go over logistics of things like off days and switching to online classes, but it turned into much more.

“I don’t know if it was a celebration, a funeral or however you want to say what it was. But we all talked, we all laughed, we all cried,” Turgeon said. “It was kind of like a healing deal for us and it really helped us move on. So I think that was really important.”

Turgeon spoke first, reflecting on the season and commending each one of his guys. Then each player shared their thoughts on the season that was suddenly behind them with the rest of the group. And a lot of thank yous were passed around, especially to the trio of seniors — Anthony Cowan Jr., Travis Valmon and Will Clark.

As the events of the emotional meeting unfolded, it became clear to Turgeon why this team had what it took to win Maryland its first share of a conference regular season championship since 2009-10.

“Everybody in the room just did everything they possibly could to help us be successful,” Turgeon said. “Sometimes when you’re right in the middle of it, you don’t see that.”

Cowan especially gave his all as he represented the university that generations of his family had attended before him. And though it was a tough ending — one that likely hasn’t fully hit yet and left him numb for a few days — Turgeon said he couldn’t have written a better ending to the guard’s four years at Maryland than him hoisting up a trophy and cutting down the nets on senior day.

After struggling to find ways to fill his time Saturday, another new reality set in for Turgeon Sunday. He and his team had been anxiously awaiting all season to hear their named called on Selection Sunday, but that too wouldn’t be happening.

“There’s still part of you, like last night at 6 p.m., you’re waiting for the Selection Show. That was hard,” Turgeon said. “We know we had a really good team. We know that we could have maybe done something — we could have lost the first round, we could have advanced to the Final Four, who knows? We’ll never know, but that makes it hard. I will say every day gets a little bit easier. And then as you see this coronavirus grow, you know that the NCAA made the right decision.”

Many players stuck around campus through Saturday and Sunday to finish homework before spring break. Most have gone home now, or are going back and forth between home and their apartments in College Park. Joshua Tomaic and Chol Marial can’t travel home internationally though, so they’ll be staying put. Xfinity Center is closed, so players no longer have a sanctuary to put up shots or get extra work in.

Turgeon said it’s been weird not seeing the guys every day. There’s already been a heavy flow of text messages and calls as the group prepares to spend two weeks apart, which is quite the rarity.

The head coach and his staff are all now working from home, doing what they can to recruit and fill the pieces for the 2020-21 team behind computers and phones with the new NCAA restrictions. They had an hour-long conference call Monday morning as they try to look ahead to what’s to come. Turgeon plans to start drawing up plays for next season, while also taking advantage of some quality time with his kids.

“It’s unique for all of us,” Turgeon said. “[I] just pray that this coronavirus isn’t going to be as bad as everybody’s saying and that people do actually isolate themselves and in the next few weeks, the numbers start to go down.

“I think that’s the best case scenario for all of us, so we get back to being normal — because it’s not normal right now. So I know everybody feels the same way out there, whether you’re a basketball coach or you run a business or you’re a mom or whatever, it’s different right now. So we got to make the best of it and just see where it takes us.”