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Maryland's Mark Turgeon Could Just Be Getting Started

January 15, 2016
As the Ravens' season has finished, and the Orioles are still about a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota, Fla., for spring training, a glance down the road to College Park, Md., is all you need for your sports thrills. The University of Maryland men's basketball program is looking less like a diversion and more like a serious threat to get to the Final Four.

However, in the world of college athletics, like the world of professional play, fans seem to already be resigned to the upheaval that can follow a great season. I hear nothing but talk of the inevitable losses to the great roster Maryland men's basketball head coach Mark Turgeon has assembled for the 2015-16 season. Just as strong an echo says to enjoy the Terps' great season this year, but regardless of how it finishes, this is a one-and-done team that will be almost left for dead along the high-speed college basketball highway.

Maryland Terps Basketball 2015-16: Mark Turgeon (squatting)
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/PressBox
The nervous Nellies point out that Jake Layman and Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon are done because they are graduating seniors. That's where the nervousness simply starts. Most any basketball expert you talk to says talented point guard Melo Trimble is certain to be taken during the NBA Draft in June, after only his second season as a Terp. And then, there is freshman center Diamond Stone. If you saw Stone put up 39 points during that gutsy comeback victory against Penn State Dec. 30, you know his NBA clock is all but ticking already.

While I am not here to dispel the notion that the Terps' men's basketball entertainment value could take a hit next season, I will tell you that the same talent and passion that drove Turgeon to put together this team will still be present. In fact, Turgeon is more likely, because of his deep recruiting roots, to parlay this team's success into a multi-year run than his predecessor.

Nobody will argue that when it came to Xs and Os, former Maryland head coach Gary Williams may have been one of the all-time maestros. His signature on the floor at the Xfinity Center and his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame say that loud and clear.

But unfortunately, Maryland didn't reap the full benefits of Williams' coaching because of his disposition toward the recruiting side of the game.

That same knock can't be used against Turgeon. If you were building the perfect coach now, you'd want someone who is half Williams and half Turgeon. Perhaps the Terps have that man all rolled up in Turgeon.

The 2016-17 team will not have Layman and likely will not have Stone in the frontcourt, and Maryland is already looking hard for a replacement for Stone. That could come in the presence of the No. 1 big man in the country, a high school center currently playing at Potters House Christian in Jacksonville, Fla., -- 6-foot-11, 270-pound Udoka Azubuike. Maryland is in the big leagues here, competing with the likes of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Florida State for Azubuike. 

All these schools and more have made offers to Azubuike. Apparently, according to some insiders, Azubuike is watching the fast-developing Stone carefully, and this is the one case of Stone's quick move up the ladder that may, in fact, help Maryland.

Remember, aside from Azubuike, Turgeon is still in good shape, as he'll most likely return 6-foot-9 junior forward Robert Carter Jr., 7-foot-1 sophomore forward Michal Cekovsky, 6-foot-11 junior forward Damonte Dodd and 6-foot-9 freshman Ivan Bender. So, it's not as if the Terps will suddenly be shrinking violets up front.

The backcourt losses of Sulaimon and potentially Trimble will be harder to replace, but on hand will be backup point guard Jaylen Brantley, shooting guard Dion Wiley and 6-foot-7 swingman Jared Nickens. Add to the mix two very highly thought of backcourt recruits in 6-foot point guard Anthony Cowan and shooting guard Kevin Huerter. Cowan and Huerter are listed as the No. 12 point guard and shooting guard in the country, respectively, according to 247sports.com.  

Maryland is also on the short list for the 2016 consensus No. 1 player in the country in Josh Jackson, a Detroit native now playing his senior high school season in Napa, Calif. Jackson, who visited Maryland in August and reportedly fell in love with the Xfinity Center, is also in play for Arizona, Kansas and Michigan State.

So much of today's big-time college game is all about the pipeline a head coach and his program has in the way of recruiting. While it's somewhat disheartening to think of the potential drop-off in talent for the Terps at the conclusion of this college basketball season, relax and enjoy the ride.

It looks like Mark Turgeon is just getting started.

Bennie Thompson  Leaving Town

I have been covering sports for more than 30 years. In that time, I have gotten to know a lot of players who were good people. I feel I had good relations with the likes of Boog Powell, Hank Peters, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Larry Lucchino, Larry King and the list goes on.

But, in part because of my role in the media, I tried to stay away from being actual friends with any of them, at least while they were active in their roles where a possible friendship could take away from my ability to be objective in my analysis of their performance on the job.

But in all that time, I have really made a lasting friendship with only one person, former Ravens special teams All-Pro safety Bennie Thompson.

Since his days as a pro ended after 1999, we have done a lot of things together, including but not limited to hanging out watching football games during the season, rappelling down the old First Mariner Bank building for the Kidney Foundation, and our favorite pastime, throwing someone under the proverbial bus, which is shorthand for humiliating someone we loved in a public forum.

Bennie, who has lived in Baltimore since the Ravens moved to town in 1996, is moving back to his hometown of New Orleans to be closer to family.

There is much talk that he'll never be too far away and that he'll come back from time to time. I hope that's true, but I just want him to know I'll miss his big-heartedness, his simple joy of things that make you laugh, and mostly, I'll miss knowing his warm presence was just minutes away at any given time.

Issue 217: January 2016