As Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon and his staff entered the spring, they were in danger of losing their entire starting lineup from the 2015-16 season, during which they won 27 games and went to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16. They also had just two players committed as part of their incoming freshmen class.
But by the end of the spring, Maryland's roster was remade: forward Micah Thomas committed in mid-March; graduate transfer L.G. Gill, a forward who had spent his prior three years at Duquesne, committed in early May; point guard Melo Trimble decided to return for his junior season May 25; forward Justin Jackson committed on the same late-May night, and finally, forward Joshua Tomaic committed June 1.
Rather than entering the 2016-17 season with the look of a rebuilding team, the Terps suddenly seemed as if they had a chance to compete at the top of the Big Ten once again.
"You want to stay relevant. I just kept telling my staff that," Turgeon said at Maryland's media day Oct. 25. "I said, 'We can't drop off the college basketball map -- can't be on it for two years and fall off. We've got to get some stuff done.'
"I think we added some really good pieces that fit in. We didn't just take anything. We grabbed guys that fit into what we're doing. I couldn't have been more proud of my staff and what we got done in that month. It's really kind of set us up -- not only for this year but for the future."
New faces and youth populate the Terps' roster this year. Guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter round out Maryland's freshmen class, along with Jackson, Thomas and Tomaic. The Terps' returning scholarship players are guards Trimble, Dion Wiley and Jaylen Brantley; forwards Jared Nickens and Ivan Bender; and centers Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky. Dodd and Gill are the only seniors on the team.
Turgeon said this year's squad actually reminds him of the Terps' 2014-15 team. But regardless of the identity Maryland eventually takes on throughout the course of the season, Trimble will be the focal point.
'It's My Team'
Trimble entered the 2015-16 season as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year after leading Maryland to the NCAA tournament as a freshman. The Terps missed the tournament in the four years prior to Trimble's arrival, but Trimble's steadiness, scoring and playmaking ability helped transform the program.
Trimble's sophomore year began similarly well, despite high expectations on both an individual and team level. The high point of Trimble's season came Jan. 9, when he knocked in a game-winning 3-pointer at Wisconsin that pushed the Terps to 4-0 in conference play.
However, after that, Trimble struggled. He averaged 14.9 points on 36 percent shooting -- including 26 percent from 3-point range -- during Maryland's 20 games after the win at Wisconsin. Trimble was once seen as likely to forego his final two years of college to turn pro, but his prolonged shooting slump hurt his draft stock.
He chose to come back to College Park, Md., after attending the NBA Draft Combine and working out with various teams last May.
"I'm just happy to be here with the group of guys and to have Coach Turgeon be my coach again," Trimble said. "[I] just have something to prove. Last year wasn't a year I wanted to have. Me coming back this year, I'm really focused, and I'm confident about myself, and I know I'm going to play the way I want to play.
"A year ago, we had a lot of weapons on the team, but this year it's a lot different. It's my team. I'm the leader of the team."
Given his history with the program, the 21-year-old Trimble returns as the unquestioned leader of the Terps. Guard Dez Wells led Maryland's 2014-15 team, while a host of veterans like forward Jake Layman and guard Rasheed Sulaimon held those duties last year. Now, it's Trimble's turn.
"He's a very good player, but [even though] it's his team, he doesn't really act like it," Jackson said. "He's very unselfish. He passes the ball. He looks for teammates. He's very encouraging.
"He just tells me to keep trying. No matter how many mistakes I make, no matter what I do wrong, just keep trying and keep going and keep pushing because the one thing you can control is your effort."
New Faces Equal
More Pace And Space
Just as Trimble, Nickens and Wiley energized the program during the fall of 2014, Turgeon is hoping this year's recruiting class can do the same. Maryland lost four starters off last year's team, leaving plenty of minutes open to competition. Turgeon sees three freshmen -- Cowan, Huerter and Jackson -- as particularly capable of helping the Terps right away.
Cowan is a 6-foot, 170-pound Bowie, Md., native who starred at St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. Cowan gives the Terps a legitimate secondary point guard -- something they've struggled to identify during the past two years, allowing Trimble a chance to play off the ball some. Turgeon said Cowan is "probably going to be the fastest guy in the league" and "can really defend. He can pick up full court, pressure the ball [and is] fast on the break."
Huerter, out of Clifton Park, N.Y., will play on the wing. Turgeon said he began recruiting Huerter when he was a 6-foot-3.5 point guard. Now, Huerter is 6-foot-7 while retaining his guard skills, particularly his ability to shoot from the outside. Huerter has also "figured out he's pretty tall and long, [so] he can get into the paint and shoot over people," Turgeon said.
Jackson is a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward from East York, Ontario, Canada. Turgeon said he'll play Jackson at power forward some this year. Jackson is "really more of a guard than anybody I've had at that position, even more so than [Layman], as far as handling the ball and being able to play that position," Turgeon said. But Jackson is so long -- he has a 7-foot-3 wingspan -- that he can hold up defensively at power forward.
"I think they all have different games. They all bring something different to the table. I think they're all going to help us in a lot of different ways," Brantley said of the freshmen class. "I really think that we're going to depend on them some games; they're going to depend on [the older players] some games. I think, if we give them the confidence to know that we trust them, they'll be fine."
The injection of talent gives Turgeon a chance to play smaller and faster than he did last year. More guard depth gives Turgeon more combinations to play small ball; Trimble and Sulaimon were the only guards who got a lot of minutes last year. Turgeon now has five guards he can play this year in Trimble, Cowan, Wiley, Brantley and Huerter, who's probably long enough to play small forward.
And instead of using traditional big men on the post, Turgeon can spread the floor with players at power forward who are also good ball-handlers, like Jackson and Gill. With the shooters Maryland has on paper -- Nickens, Huerter and Jackson, to name a few -- Trimble likely will have more space to operate than last year.
"You spread the floor better, it opens it up for Melo a little bit more. Anthony Cowan, Dion Wiley, even Justin Jackson, they're all really good off the dribble, can do some things for us," Turgeon said. "We'll be able to open the floor more, but we can also play traditional and run our system that's been so successful for us."
Issue 227: November 2016