Maryland star junior guard Melo Trimble helped re-energize the men's basketball program in College Park, Md., when he stepped onto campus and was a part of 55 victories during the past two seasons with the Terps. Though it's still early in the college career of Maryland guard Anthony Cowan, he's shown signs of adding to the winning culture re-established in part by Trimble.
Even before the college basketball season started, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said he would frequently pair Cowan, a graduate of Washington D.C.'s St. John's College High School, with Trimble. Trimble, like Cowan, competed in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference but at Bishop O'Connell in Arlington, Va., and was second-team All-Big Ten last year.
Turgeon said the two guards' skillsets mesh well and he didn't waste any time getting them on the court together, starting the duo during Maryland's season-opening 62-56 victory against American Nov. 11. Cowan scored 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting and was 5-of-6 from the free-throw line against the Eagles.
One game later, during a one-point, comeback victory against Georgetown Nov. 15, Cowan made four crucial free throws late as part of an 11-point effort.
Cowan took over much of the ball-handling duties, allowing Trimble to play off the ball some instead and run the offense for almost an entire game.
Turgeon said the results have allowed Trimble to find "more ways he can score" with "a lot more open looks than he's gotten in the past." In no small part that's been due to the playmaking ability of Cowan, who is averaging a team-high 3.6 assists per game, as of Dec. 6.
"It's so easy for me to pick up assists just playing with [Trimble]," Cowan said. "He's so easy to find on the court, just like a lot of my teammates. He helps me, also, just because of how much the defense really looks onto him and also opens it up for a lot of my teammates. ... It's fun playing with him. It's easy, also."
Trimble said Cowan, his lightning-quick 6-foot, 170-pound backcourt mate, has gotten a lot better since the summer at playing with the proper pace.
Still, it's an ongoing balancing act for Cowan. He turned the ball over four times during the first half against Oklahoma State Dec. 3, as he was sped up a bit by the Cowboys' pressure defense in the half-court. But he also used his quickness to get to the rim and make plays for others. He finished with 11 points and a pair of assists.
Where Trimble has been particularly impressed with Cowan is on the defensive end, where he's had the responsibility of guarding opponents' top guards, like Pittsburgh's Jamel Artis Nov. 29 and Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans Dec. 3.
"He's a really good defender. I see it in practice when he guards me," Trimble said. "Once he guards me in practice the way he does, I feel he can guard anybody. Just to have him go out there and play with a lot of energy and guard the other team's best player is really special because, like I said, it takes pressure off everyone else."
One person who isn't surprised by Cowan's early success at Maryland is the freshman's former high school coach Sean McAloon.
When McAloon got the varsity men's basketball head coaching job at St. John's in 2012, one of the calls he made was to the Cowan family in Bowie, Md. Unfortunately for McAloon, Cowan had already committed to Good Counsel, where Cowan would play his freshman year.
But after Good Counsel's then-coach stepped down before Cowan's sophomore season started, Cowan looked for a new opportunity. The Cowan family reached out to McAloon, who shared with them his vision for Cowan at St. John's. It resonated with Cowan, who played his final three years of high school ball at St. John's.
It set the stage for a dynamite career at St. John's. Cowan was named to
The Washington Post first-team All-Metro as a junior in 2015 and earned
The Post's All-Met Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2016. Cowan led the Cadets to the D.C. State Athletic Association championship as a junior, scoring 21 points against Gonzaga during the title game. He led St. John's to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title as a senior, scoring 21 points during the championship game against DeMatha.
"As far as what he meant to the program, you're talking about, within a three-year period, over 70 wins," McAloon said. "I mean, that's unheard of."
Turgeon offered Cowan a scholarship when he was a sophomore at St. John's, and he officially committed in January 2015. It didn't hurt that Cowan wanted to stay local and had connections to the university. His dad, also named Anthony, earned his master's degree at Maryland, while his grandmother, Valencia Skeeter, teaches in Maryland's department of African-American studies.
But ultimately, it was a decision based on Cowan's comfort level with Turgeon's program.
"Maryland showed the most interest in me in the beginning, so I automatically fell in love," Cowan said. "And Maryland stuck with me. I think they were one of the first high D-I schools that offered me, and I just kept building a relationship with Coach Turgeon … and his staff. It just felt like the right fit."
Cowan's first coach as a young kid was his father, who played football and basketball as a younger man and is now the head coach of the D.C. Blue Devils, an AAU team. As Cowan tells it, once his dad found out about Cowan's love for hoops, the elder Cowan would stay up "countless hours" late at night to study drills on YouTube, "and me and him would be in the gym the next day doing drills."
Cowan eventually ended up at St. John's, where he developed into the 45th-rated player in the country on Rivals.com for the class of 2016. McAloon said Cowan improved "every aspect of his game" while at St. John's. He was mostly a set shooter and driver as a sophomore, then added a pull-up as a junior and became a leader as a senior, according to McAloon.
The competition in the WCAC, with big-time schools like DeMatha and Gonzaga, also aided Cowan's preparation for the rigors of college ball. Cowan said "you can't take a night off" in the WCAC -- just like in college.
Cowan is one of five scholarship freshmen on Maryland's roster. He's joined by guard Kevin Huerter, guard/forward Justin Jackson, forward Micah Thomas and forward Joshua Tomaic. Cowan, Huerter and Jackson typically start for Turgeon -- each is averaging more than 27 minutes a game -- while Thomas and Tomaic have yet to see any action.
At 10.3 points per game, Cowan is one of three Terps averaging double figures. He's also shown a propensity to stick his nose into the paint and help out on the boards, as he's averaging 4.7 rebounds per game.
Turgeon would like to see Cowan help the Terps get out in transition more. Maryland ranks 241st in the country in tempo, according to kenpom.com, a college basketball analytics site.
But overall, Cowan has been everything Maryland could have reasonably expected -- and then some.
"He's got to get us running a little bit better, get everybody running with him -- he's fast -- especially when we get stops," Turgeon said. "We have been able to get a lot stops most of the year. He's doing a lot of things well. And I think, defensively, he's just getting better. And then his leadership; he's just getting more comfortable. There's a lot on his plate. He's really handling it well."
Issue 228: December 2016