CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maryland's coaching change at the midpoint of James Padgett's career offered a pair of opportunities.
One was obvious. The Terrapins were short-handed for much of last season, and Maryland had little choice but to play the power forward.
But it also was a fresh start, a chance to make a first impression on new coach Mark Turgeon after two years as a back-of-the-rotation option.
"He gave me a lot of freedom to play my game and make mistakes and learn on the job," Padgett said. "He was new; I was pretty new playing under him. It was my first time playing a lot of minutes. I think we grew together."
Indeed, the Brooklyn native produced a mildly surprising junior year, averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds for a team with well-documented deficiencies in the paint.
He impressed with his offensive rebounding. His once-raw scoring ability at least became a little more consistent. In the process, he more than capitalized on his career reset with Turgeon, who was willing (partially out of necessity) to let Padgett figure things out.
By season's end, the Terps had a rotational piece who they could at least count on in some capacity for the following year.
"We needed James to be good to have any chance, so we worked hard with James," Turgeon said. "He gave us a lot more than I thought we were going to get out of him."
For all of his progress, there is less-desired attention as well. Padgett faces a Friday trial after being charged in June with driving while impaired.
Turgeon declined to comment on Padgett's status Wednesday since the case remains active. The school's student-athlete code of conduct stipulates any player charged with a DUI or DWI must sit out 10 percent of his team's regular-season schedule.
Unlike last season, Padgett (the lone remaining player from Maryland's last NCAA tournament team) missing three games might not crush the Terps.
Sophomore Alex Len is stronger after a full year at Maryland, and the frontcourt was fortified with the addition of freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell.
Nonetheless, Padgett could be a significant influence in his final season with the Terps. He is the only four-year scholarship senior on the roster, and both he and junior guard Pe'Shon Howard were recently named team captains.
It also means a higher profile for a player who was unaccustomed to the spotlight before last season.
"He didn't talk a lot last year, but he's definitely pressing this year to be that leader, to keep everyone focused and keep everyone locked in," guard Nick Faust said. "He's been that vocal guy."
That isn't a description anyone would have used for Padgett in the past. It's just one more perception he has altered in the second half of his time at Maryland.
"Everyone has their own opinion, and you just have to let them have their own opinion and don't let it get to you because everybody's going to have an opinion whether it's good or bad," Padgett said. "It's just like that for everyone."
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