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Terps Turn To Newcomers To Replace Kevin Huerter

July 12, 2018
Former Maryland men's basketball wing Kevin Huerter was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 19th overall pick in the NBA Draft June 21. Huerter's departure created a significant hole for the Terps, but head coach Mark Turgeon completed a consensus top-10 recruiting class this spring. Here's a look at Turgeon's new guards and wings whose role increased with the loss of Huerter.

Aaron Wiggins

Wiggins, a 6-foot-6 wing out of North Carolina, has an opportunity to start at small forward with Huerter gone. Wiggins, the No. 41 overall recruit in 247Sports' composite rankings for the class of 2018, became Turgeon's first commitment of the 2018 class last June. He was coached by former Terps guard Keith Gatlin at Wesleyan Christian Academy (N.C.) and by 11-year NBA veteran Jeff McInnis on Team Charlotte, an Under Armour-sponsored AAU team.

McInnis said he saw Wiggins pop with Team Charlotte during the spring of 2016. McInnis has long believed Wiggins had a chance to be special -- "I told him when I first started coaching him, I think he's an NBA player," McInnis said -- but Wiggins was buried on McInnis' depth chart when the AAU circuit began in 2016. That changed after Team Charlotte took a springtime trip southward.

"We went to Florida and we played. He was in the rotation but he wasn't really playing a lot at first, but I didn't know how this was going to work out," McInnis recalled. "I talked to him, and I was like, 'Hey man, what are you going to do? You're falling further and further into the rotation.' And then I think he might've had like 24 points in like a quarter and he dunked on a kid and the light bulb went off from there. Ever since then, he's kind of become the Aaron Wiggins that everybody knows now, ever since that day and that game in Florida."

McInnis described Wiggins as a smooth, three-level scorer who can shoot from 3-point range, drain a pull-up jumper and drive to the hoop. Wiggins showed his ability to get to the basket last summer against one-time Terp target Keldon Johnson. He averaged 15 points and four rebounds for Team Charlotte in 2017.

McInnis said Wiggins has gotten better every year since he met him thanks to his attention to detail, willingness to learn and quiet confidence.

"If he starts and plays, he can be [Big Ten] Freshman of the Year," McInnis said. "It's just me, I'm biased, but I think he can be Freshman of the Year if he gets the opportunity to play and play like the Aaron I know."

Serrel Smith

Smith, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, committed to Maryland in April. He originally signed with Ole Miss last November but was released from his letter of intent after former Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy stepped down. Smith was a prolific player for four years at St. Petersburg (Fla.) High, leading his team to the 8A state semifinals three times. He averaged 29.3 points as a senior, earning Florida Dairy Farmers' 8A player of the year honors.

Chris Blackwell, Smith's coach at St. Petersburg, said Smith started at point guard as a freshman. Blackwell explained that the presence of Smith's experienced, talented teammates made it easier to live with Smith's freshman mistakes, but one of his errors as a freshman didn't go ignored.

"Serrel missed a defensive assignment that allowed for a team to score [and] take a little momentum," Blackwell said. "We winded up winning the game, but upon the timeout right after his miscue, he had some teammates that approached him before I actually could approach him, and really laid into him about detail and execution on defense. And as a freshman, not understanding the significance of detail in a game, I can honestly say at that point, he grew emotionally, understanding that even at the high school level, you pay attention to detail and scouting report and assignment."

Though he began his high school career as a point guard, Smith developed into a versatile scorer who could play the point or on the wing. Blackwell explained that Smith simply has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop, particularly by exploiting opponents' weaknesses off the bounce. Only rising junior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and Huerter were able to consistently create their own shot last year, so Smith's scoring ability is a necessary addition. 

Blackwell credited Tamika Coley, Smith's mother and the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in UCF women's hoops history, with helping Smith's development.

"He's worked on his craft. He continues to work, the hours and the time that he's put in," Blackwell said. "So knowing the game itself, studying your opponent, these are things that he does. He studies the game, he knows his opponents, being able to recognize schemes and different defenses allows for him to get to the best position he can get to be an efficient scorer." 

Trace Ramsey

Ramsey, a 6-foot-7 wing out of Indiana, committed to Maryland in late April, shortly after he was offered a scholarship by Turgeon and visited College Park, Md. Ramsey, who played a post-graduate year at Don Bosco Prep Academy (Ind.) during the 2017-18 season, was unranked by major recruiting services and offered by mid-major schools prior to committing to Maryland.

Ramsey's commitment came after wing depth turned into a greater need for Maryland in April, when former Terps forward Justin Jackson decided to enter the NBA Draft and former Terps guard Dion Wiley opted to transfer. Turgeon and assistant coach Bino Ranson watched Ramsey work out at Bosco in April after hearing about him and watching his film, according to Dave Maravilla, Ramsey's coach at Bosco.

"Obviously, he had already been on the radar with a number of other schools, so it wasn't like the guy appeared out of nowhere," Maravilla said. "I think maybe their needs may have changed this spring like a lot of other schools, so they kind of honed in on him once they watched him on film. I talked to Mark. He came out. Trace played extremely well, played the way he has played all year, and they invited him out on a visit. He had multiple offers even earlier in the season and there were quite a few high-major schools that were then starting to get involved with him, but Maryland just beat everybody to the punch and that's just really what happened."

Maravilla described Ramsey as an athletic, bouncy slasher who "attacks the rim with a vengeance" and "can really defend ball screens one through four." Maravailla believes Ramsey can be a complementary player right away who can affect the game with his motor, toughness and scoring. Ramsey projects as Wiggins' backup at small forward.

"… I think Mark and Bino recognized that he is a competitive guy and even though that he may not have been on anybody's top-100 list, he was a guy that was good enough and slipped through some cracks," Maravilla said. "And we've had numerous guys in our program in the same situation. We've got multiple guys in the ACC who've had success, and same situation. Who can explain why guys like this slip through the cracks? But they do. I think Maryland really did a great job recruiting him and they just got it done."

Eric Ayala

The 6-foot-5 Ayala was billed as a combo guard when the Wilmington, Del., native committed to Maryland last fall. But John Mahoney, Ayala's coach this past season with the IMG Academy (Fla.) post-graduate team, said Ayala is a true point guard. 

"It's his nature, man. He needs that ball in his hands," Mahoney said. "He's not going to leave going down the other end of the court just without the ball. He just has that knack. True point guards are going after that ball when it's rebounded; get it out of a big man's hands and get it down the court as fast as he can."

As such, Ayala projects to be Maryland's backup point guard during the 2018-19 season. Turgeon opted to enter last season without a true backup point guard, instead using rising sophomore Darryl Morsell and Huerter in that role. Cowan averaged 37 minutes per game last year and played 40 or more minutes in a game eight times. 

Ayala follows in the footsteps of rising sophomore Bruno Fernando, who also played for Mahoney at IMG. Mahoney said Ayala is a "power player" who attacks the rim, has good court vision and finds shooters effectively. Ayala shared a backcourt with Anfernee Simons, who was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 24th overall pick in June.

Ayala, a Putnam Science Academy (Conn.) graduate, hit a game-winning 3-pointer for IMG against Notre Dame Prep (Mass.) last November. 

"He just brought it every game. He competed every game. He was a competitor. He hated to lose, just did his best to compete every day," Mahoney said. "I know he hit [a game-winner] when we went back up to New England, which was big for him to go back there in front of a lot of those people he's played against. He hit a three to win a game. He's had some big games." 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of WE R1 Basketball