Charles Mitchell found himself parked on the bench more and more in early December, a few more pounds leading to a lot less playing time.
It was enough to fluster even Maryland’s gregarious and engaging young forward. The Terrapins (and especially Kyle Tarp, the school’s director of basketball performance) weren’t about to allow Mitchell to fall into an extended funk.
“Right after Monmouth [on Dec. 12], Kyle came to me and was like, ‘It’s time. ACC play is around the corner. You have to do all the extra stuff,’” Mitchell said. “He’s called me every day. Even if I didn’t want to go in the gym, I had to go in the gym, just giving me extra work and giving me extra conditioning and was always on me. He’s still on me.”
And after Mitchell’s performance Saturday, it’s understandable why Tarp and everyone else in Maryland’s program would want the freshman to be mindful of his conditioning. Mitchell had 19 points and 14 rebounds as Maryland breezed past Delaware State 79-50 to with its 11th straight game.
As was the case throughout most of this month, there were few lasting conclusions to draw from the Terps’ latest rout. Maryland (11-1) is unbeaten at home, unbeaten since its opener and likely to carry the third-longest winning streak in school history into Saturday’s ACC opener against Virginia Tech.
The Terps remain a team with many moving pieces, and finding steadiness in as many of them as possible is paramount. Hence the optimism over Mitchell, who set career highs in points, rebounds and minutes (24) just three weeks and three games after appearing for just eight minutes.
“I think it’s real simple: He gained weight,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “He wasn’t playing minutes. We weren’t doing the extra conditioning he needs. He was probably eating a few pizzas at night that he shouldn’t have been eating, and he got back to his discipline.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Mitchell’s re-emergence was that it came just a few days after returning from Christmas break. If ever there was a chance for a first-year player minding his physique to slip, it would be during a rare escape home in the middle of the season.
“They were texting me daily,” Mitchell said. “They were on me. Kyle was like ‘What are you doing? Did you get in the gym today? What did you do? What did I eat?’ I wasn’t frustrated. I just knew he cared for me.”
A slightly leaner Mitchell was immensely energetic Saturday, a peek at the player with nimble post moves and a knack for rebounding Maryland saw in spurts earlier in the season. The Terps departed College Park for Christmas hoping for greater production from the power forward spot, and Mitchell provided it for at least one day.
He deposited 10 points in the first half as the Terps pulled away before the break. Then he grabbed 11 rebounds in the second half, becoming the first Maryland player with 19 points and 14 boards in a game since Jordan Williams and only the 10th Terp to do so since Joe Smith turned pro after the 1994-95 season.
“I have high expectations for myself all the time, but I didn’t expect these numbers this soon,” Mitchell said.
Maryland could use similar outings in the second half of the season. Despite their winning streak, the Terps’ greatest tests await in conference play and beyond.
A steady — and relatively svelte — Mitchell would be an immense help.