ATLANTA — The Maryland basketball program’s most bizarre 12 months in recent memory are almost over, this week’s trip to the ACC tournament likely its final stop.
The Terrapins have seen their longtime coach retire, a freshman center suspended 10 games to comply with NCAA amateurism regulations, twice lost their starting point guard to injury and navigated nearly four months of play with between seven and nine scholarship players available.
In short, Maryland (16-14) probably won’t endure such a strange season, one which the eighth-seeded Terps hope possesses one more turn entering Thursday’s meeting with Wake Forest (13-17).
“We have too much of a story going on,” senior center Berend Weijs said. “I think if we go to the national tournament, we’re going to get our own movie.”
The Terps need four wins this weekend before requiring any casting calls. And while such a run is unlikely, it would continue an illuminating season for first-year coach Mark Turgeon.
It’s also revealed plenty about Turgeon, who was hired in May to replace the retired Gary Williams. The former Texas A&M coach lived up to his reputation for candor, but on most occasions sprinkled positive takeaways with his honesty.
He inherited a relatively inexperienced roster, but described progress from many players throughout the season. He praised guard Terrell Stoglin’s competitiveness while prodding the sophomore into playing better defense (which happened at times) and improved shot selection.
Turgeon scrambled to mask frontcourt deficiencies by playing smaller lineups when he could, but also mixed and matched big men and played hot hands when he could.
During an hourlong open practice Wednesday morning at Philips Arena, Turgeon offered precise instructions as the Terps held a de facto walk-through to prepare for the Demon Deacons. It was a window into a man still seeking answers for an often-befuddling roster that took a severe hit with Pe’Shon Howard’s season-ending knee injury last month.
“The hard part was the puzzle kept changing and the hardest part was you never knew what you were going to get out of your guys,” Turgeon said. “You knew what Sean [Mosley] was going to give you, Nick [Faust] for the most part was going to give you, James Padgett 75 percent of the time. The rest of the guys, you never knew what you were going to get.”
And so there were a variety of issues, but also some consistency. Turgeon said his team was attentive from the start and insisted there were fun times.
“Sean’s had a great year. Terrell’s had a great year. Alex [Len] did get eligible,” Turgeon said. “Our freshmen have gotten better. James Padgett’s stepped up. We’ve been blessed in a lot of areas, too. We have a great coaching staff I believe in. I’ve seen it. I’ve had guys leave. It’s just all part of it.”
It comes as little surprise one of Turgeon’s primary watchwords is resilience. It helped the Terps avoid a glaring loss early in the season, helped them improve despite a shaky stretch in January and allowed them to stretch Virginia to overtime Sunday after a pair of forgettable losses.
That, it turns out, could be the most valuable thing the Terps carry into this tournament and beyond.
“It was kind of weird, but also fun since it was a challenge for us,” Padgett said. “We were a young team, and we knew we had to get better fast, learn fast, learn on the go. Coach always emphasizes that you have to be able to adapt on the fly because things are going to change unexpectedly.”