Padgett comes to a crossroads at career midpoint

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There’s certain axioms Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams has repeated frequently over the years that, at the very least, it’s safe to say he’s invested in those ideas.

One of those things is a caution not to judge the performance of big men based on their earliest returns.

Sure enough, the experiences of Dave Neal and Dino Gregory in recent years suggests it’s a foolhardy gambit to make a knee-jerk reaction. Neither player was an all-American, but at the same time both were valuable starters in their final season at Maryland. They developed and matured and had great utility for the Terps at the end of their careers.

Still, two full seasons should usually provide something of a read on a player. Maybe a final conclusion can’t be drawn, but there’s enough evidence to know exactly what a guy can do to that stage of his career.

James Padgett provides a case bit trickier. Through 59 games, he’s averaged 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds. He was Maryland’s No. 4 frontcourt option as a freshman (behind Landon Milbourne, Jordan Williams and Dino Gregory) and the Terps’ No. 4 frontcourt option as a sophomore (behind Williams, Gregory and Hauk Palsson). The only part that’s even a bit surprising is Palsson moving ahead of Padgett so quickly.

It was revealed just before this past season Padgett dealt with a injury as a freshman. Then he came out as a sophomore and was a similar (and, in a rebounding sense, slightly weaker) player than he was his first year.

In some ways, he’s still a bit of a mystery – and even Gary Williams wasn’t entirely sure what to say when the topic of Padgett was broached earlier this week.

“I don’t know,” Williams said. “He came in here and said his stomach bothered him again this year. There comes a time you either play or you don’t play. This is a big year for him. He’ll be a junior. I think he understands how hard he has to work. He’s 6-6 – he’s not 6-9 – and quick, not a great shooter, but every once in a while makes a move where you go ‘Wow, that’s pretty good.’ You’ve got to see it all the time. You have to take the pounding. All those things go into it, so we’ll see.”

Will Padgett ever be a star? Unlikely. But could he be valuable for the Terps? That’s quite possible, especially with the frontcourt flux Maryland might face next season.

One thing’s for sure: With Gregory and perhaps Jordan Williams moving on, Padgett will have more chances to demonstrate what he can do next year. And if he can’t get over the 10-minute-a-night plateau, that will demonstrate something as well.

Patrick Stevens

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