By the end of Maryland men's basketball's 2019-20 season, Anthony Cowan Jr. will be a staple in program all-time lists. He could be top 10 or even top five in scoring (he's currently 17th). He could be top-five in assists (currently tied for 10th). He could easily reach No. 2 in starts, with an outside chance at the top spot.
But none of this will matter to him if next March ends in heartbreak again.
Cowan declared for the NBA Draft this past spring, but
May 29 that he would return for his senior season, saying he had "unfinished business" at Maryland. His motives are clear to everyone in the Terps' locker room.
"Anthony came back to win," head coach Mark Turgeon said at Maryland's media day Oct. 15. "Anthony's done a lot of things with scoring points and steals and assists. But he wants his legacy to be winning and winning at a high level, and he knows he'll be remembered more if our team wins at a high level, so that's why Anthony came back."
Cowan and star center Bruno Fernando declared for the draft on the same day, but while Fernando had long been expected to leave and become a first-round pick -- he fell to 34th overall and is now with the Atlanta Hawks -- Cowan's entrance was somewhat of a surprise. He let the process play its course, hiring an agent and working out with multiple NBA teams. He knew he wanted to return, though, and his teammates were thrilled to have him back.
"Right when he came back, he told the team he was coming back and we got right to work," junior guard Darryl Morsell said. "Throughout the whole offseason, he was in here working with us, so it wasn't really like nothing crazy. I mean, we knew he was coming back because he had already been here working with us, but I feel like it kind of ramped up a bit because we knew who we had now and we were just ready to rock."
In 2016, Cowan closed his high school career in perfect fashion. He averaged 20.6 points per game, led St. John's to its first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) title since 2000 and was named the Washington Post's All-Met Player of the Year. He beat out Markelle Fultz -- who one year later became the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft -- for the individual accolades, and his Cadets beat Fultz-led DeMatha in the WCAC final.
Cowan, a four-star recruit ranked No. 62 in the country by the 247Sports Composite, committed to the Terps in January 2015. He's started all 99 of Maryland's games since he enrolled. He's led the team in scoring twice and earned All-Big Ten honors each of the last two years (third team in 2018, second team in 2019). But the big wins haven't come. Maryland hasn't finished better than tied for third in the Big Ten standings. It hasn't won a single conference tournament game. It didn't win an NCAA Tournament contest until last season's narrow victory against Belmont.
That win provided a shot of confidence, but the loss two days later to LSU still stings. Maryland had a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., if Tremont Waters hadn't made a layup just before the buzzer. It took Cowan days to regroup, and he still isn't over that game entirely.
"I didn't really watch the tournament no more after that," Cowan said. "I didn't reply to texts [saying], 'What happened on that play?' I didn't answer calls that I know was going to talk about that play."
Getting back to that stage, and past it, requires hard work. Going through the draft process helped Cowan understand which areas of his game needed improvement. He's still working on his shot, vision, body language and leadership. The core is back around him, and he's got a new assistant coach to work with former point guard DeAndre Haynes. Cowan even gained 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason, which has made him more powerful without compromising his athleticism.
"If you know the Big Ten, you know how physical it is. I just want to be able to bump with the guys," Cowan said. "I felt like a couple of times last year, I just wasn't strong enough to make the type of moves or finish the way I wanted to. So I think this year really helped me out a little bit, putting on this weight. [Coach Turgeon] thought it was going to slow me down, but nah."
There's a lot to like about this Maryland basketball team. The Terps have a five-man sophomore class
ready to make the leap
. They have
who can become impact players between now and the heart of the season. They have twins, several pairs of AAU teammates and a
Baltimore-bred duo of stars
. But everything has a way of coming back to Cowan. The watch lists and best-player-in-the-country rankings (
some of which have him in the top 10
) serve as reminders that this is still his team.
Cowan grew up in a family of Maryland fans. His uncle graduated from the university. His father earned his master's degree there. His grandmother was professor in the school's African American Studies department. He knows what it would mean to put another banner in those rafters and that this is his last chance. There's a lot of pressure that comes with being the senior leader on a team like this. But Cowan's ready for it.
"In a world where it's not great to become a senior, I am really proud of Anthony," Turgeon said. "Maybe he can make it cool again."
Follow Thomas on Twitter @TKendziora37
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox