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Mark Turgeon Just Might Make It After All

February 15, 2017
The recent passing of comedic actress Mary Tyler Moore brought some attention back to her old TV show and the theme song written by Sonny Curtis. You know, the one that sums up her move from a small town in Minnesota to the big city of Minneapolis, with the repeated back-to-back lyrics, "You just might make it after all." 

Those lyrics struck a chord with me as I watched Maryland men's basketball head coach Mark Turgeon brilliantly navigate his young team to a 20-4 start, as of Feb. 10. 

Even though there have been some recent struggles, particularly a 70-64 loss at Penn State Feb. 7, no amount of slippage can diminish the exquisitely executed pivot that saw Turgeon move on from the uber-talented collection of me-first players that finished the 2015-16 season with a disappointing loss in the Sweet 16.

Even though Turgeon put together a star-studded roster last season, before that, the roster-build was anything but smooth sailing.  

After a dysfunctional 2014-15 season, Turgeon had a revolt on his hands. Guard Nick Faust, center Shaquille Cleare, guard Roddy Peters and forward Charles Mitchell all transferred from his program. At the time, regardless of what actually happened, there were loud whispers the players left because Turgeon was recruiting over his bunch of basketball brats.

But the net result was Turgeon trying to move forward, which brought the transfers of forward Robert Carter Jr. from Georgia Tech and guard Rasheed Sulaimon from Duke, not to mention one-year wonder center Diamond Stone. While the 2015-16 season ended before many thought it would, Turgeon's ability to attract star-power kept him from taking on water after the mass-exodus at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Turgeon responded to the loss of Carter, Stone and forward Jake Layman to the NBA with the more sensible long-term signings of guards Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan and forward Justin Jackson. That trio, along with fifth-year senior transfer L.G. Gill and veteran holdovers Melo Trimble, Damonte Dodd, Jalen Brantley and Michal Cekovsky, among others, had Maryland as high as No. 17 in the national polls this season.

With this year's early success, it feels like Turgeon, who spent 1998-2011 with smaller programs at Jacksonville State, Wichita State and Texas A&M, is going to make it after all.

Truth be told, Turgeon may not be the in-game maestro his predecessor, Gary Williams, was, but his tireless efforts on the recruiting trail bring to mind the Terps' other big-name and longtime coach, Lefty Driesell. Turgeon's recruiting efforts will likely be what put him in a position to be at Maryland for as long as he likes.

We all know Driesell brought his bombastic stylings and big-time basketball to College Park, Md., in 1969. That means the Driesell, Bob Wade, Williams and Turgeon years are now at 47 and counting. Only two times during that period did Maryland make it to the Final Four (2001, 2002), and only once were the Terps crowned national champions (2002).

Turgeon's 2017-18 team will likely return all but two players from this year's squad, seniors Dodd and Gill. Trimble, who decided to step back from an early entry into the 2016 NBA Draft, is just a junior and could again choose to return to the fold. That's an outcome that would bring a smile to his coach's face.

The two open spots on the roster have been claimed by 6-foot-10 center Bruno Fernando out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and 6-foot-4 guard Darryl Morsell out of Baltimore's Mount Saint Joseph.

While Fernando is supposed to be good enough to start immediately, it is the Morsell signing that may be smoothing the path for even more success under Turgeon. Morsell marks the first Baltimore signee for the Turgeon era.

It is the pipeline to Baltimore that may be the game-changer for Turgeon. At one time, Driesell was able to snap his fingers and get high-level talent from Baltimore. That was, until local product Ernie Graham, who starred at Maryland, failed to live up to his NBA promise. Driesell was blamed for that, and local coaches shut off any possible pipeline to Maryland.

Then, when Wade took over for the fired Driesell in 1986, he was there such a short time that the pipeline never reestablished itself. When Wade was summarily fired for cause in 1989, that pipeline of top-tier talent remained shut, until a brave Keith Booth went against the unspoken edict and opened things back up, as part of Williams' 1993 recruiting class.

Of course, there is the notable instance of former Calvert Hall guard Juan Dixon, one of Baltimore's own who led the Terps to the 2002 national title and played seven seasons in the NBA. But Dixon has been a rare exception.

While Williams got a couple other star Baltimore players, Sean Mosley was a disappointment and Faust transferred out in May 2014.

Clearly if Morsell's signing can reopen the door to Baltimore recruits, and it is strongly indicated his 6-foot-9 junior power forward teammate, and top 25 recruit, Jalen Smith is favoring the Terps, it could greatly help Turgeon's efforts to get Maryland back to the Promised Land.


In closing, the news didn't get much attention, but the death of former Baltimore Bullets part-owner Earl Foreman Jan. 23 at the age of 92 struck a chord with me. My first job in sports was at the behest of Foreman. In 1966, at the age of 14, I got my first dream job as a ball boy for the Baltimore Bullets.

Actually, the job came by way of Joe Cohen, who was Foreman's brother-in-law. Cohen's late wife, Olive, was my late Aunt Ester's best friend, and that relationship got me into the inner sanctums of the Baltimore Civic Center and my first front-row seat to see the likes of former Bullet greats Gus Johnson, Don Ohl, Kevin Loughery, Bob Ferry, Ray Scott and Jack Marin.

Some 20 years later, after Foreman briefly owned a piece of the Philadelphia Eagles, he ended up the commissioner of the MISL, the league the Baltimore Blast played in. It was in that capacity during the mid-1980s, when I hosted a postgame radio show on WFBR, that I often got to interview Foreman.

I have the warmest memories of my time as a ball boy with that lousy 1966-67 Bullets team that went 20-61, as well as the times I would brush up against Foreman as he tried, mightily, to build the MISL into this country's third big-time indoor league.

Rest in peace, Earl.

Issue 230: February 2017