- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shaquille Cleare tucked his 6-foot-9, 270 pound frame into a folding chair on the Comcast Center court Tuesday afternoon during Maryland’s basketball media day.

Moments later, the 6-foot-8, 260-pound Charles Mitchell would do the same.

The freshmen are literally the Terrapins’ biggest additions as the formal start of practice approaches. And if it wasn’t already apparent, Maryland will field a vastly different frontcourt in coach Mark Turgeon’s second season.

Along with holdovers Alex Len and James Padgett, the Terps have something previously in short supply: size, and plenty of it.

“We’re four deep,” Turgeon said. “We have tremendous depth inside, which we didn’t have last year.”

It was a maddening debut at times for Turgeon, a teacher of defense and rebounding whose team was ever-vulnerable to potent post players and had only so many options to work with down low, especially in the 10 games before Len became eligible.

Gone is Ashton Pankey, who transferred to Manhattan after an up-and-down redshirt freshman season. So too is Berend Weijs, a lean center who averaged 1.9 points and struggled to hold up physically against stronger players.

While Len, who bulked up by more than 20 pounds in the offseason, and Padgett are both better, the gregarious newcomers stand out as immediate contributors.

Cleare and Mitchell already seem at ease in College Park. Both began to remake their bodies upon arriving over the summer; Cleare dropped 20 pounds, while Mitchell is down 18 pounds.

Yet they’re both still big bodies and are certain to provide some interior oomph for a team out-rebounded in conference play a year ago.

“This year everyone is much stronger,” Cleare said. “Our freshman class, we got in a few bigs and we’re very physical. We’re willing to do the dirty work — whatever. We will bite, scratch, tear you apart down low. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”

Cleare is neither bashful nor especially boastful, but instead intent on providing a rugged element to the Terps.

Given a choice between plowing through something and going around it, Cleare opts for as little subtlety as possible.

“He’s definitely going to go through it,” guard Seth Allen said.

There is a practical facet to the addition of Cleare and Mitchell. Turgeon will enjoy far more flexibility in managing fouls with a credible four-man rotation in the post, and there is also the possibility of doling out playing time based on production, something that wasn’t a luxury a year ago.

But with their physicality, the freshmen also provide another bonus: the ability to wear out opposing forwards who dare tread into the paint.

“Going against them in the post is like going against a bulldozer,” reserve forward Spencer Barks said.

Cleare and Mitchell will get help, of course. Len remains an intriguing breakout possibility after averaging 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds last year. Padgett is the only four-year scholarship player in the program and demonstrated an impressive penchant for offensive rebounds last year.

Toss in the freshmen, though, and there’s no doubt Maryland underwent a frontcourt transformation during the offseason.

“Us four, we can do anything in the post together,” Mitchell said.

Notes: It remains uncertain when Maryland will hear about swingman Dez Wells’ waiver for immediate eligibility. Wells arrived at Maryland last month after his August expulsion at Xavier, where he averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season.

“Nothing’s changed,” Turgeon said. “We’re just in the process. It’s a process and we’re going through it. My administration’s been great, the NCAA’s been great, but we have some more time to go on that. I wouldn’t say it’s in the early stages, because it’s not, but there’s still some work to be done on that.”