- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Skim through James Padgett’s career highs in several categories, and there’s one striking feature.

The Maryland junior forward rewrote quite a few of his personal bests in Sunday’s 71-62 defeat of UNC Wilmington. His points (12), field goals made (six) and assists (two) were the best in his 60 career appearances.

And don’t forget about his 31 minutes, a category where Padgett’s contributions surely will balloon this season by default.

It’s hardly a shock, really. Padgett was an end-of-the-rotation player – at best – during his first two years with the Terrapins. With only seven scholarship players available for at least the first third of this season, Padgett’s role must grow.

“I think his game is expanding a lot because he has more freedom to do the little things to help the team out,” guard Sean Mosley said. “I think James was a talented guy as a freshman, and he can show people what he really can do. We’re definitely going to need him.”

Padgett will be among several players on the spot as Maryland (1-0) begins play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday against No. 15 Alabama (2-0). Either Colorado or defending NIT champion Wichita State awaits Friday, with another contest Sunday to wrap up the early season tournament.

The victory in the season opener was a solid way for new coach Mark Turgeon to acclimate a rotation littered with players with little or no experience. That included Padgett, whose 12-point, seven-rebound outing was only his third 10-and-5 outing of his career.

One of Padgett’s known qualities – effectively collecting offensive rebounds and quickly depositing them – was on display. Eight of his dozen points immediately followed his work on the boards, and the Terps will need him to continue doing so throughout the season.

But there’s more to his game than put-backs.

“What people don’t realize because he’s 6-8 is James has a tremendous feel for the game and he’s a tremendous passer,” Turgeon said. “Whether he’s posting up or catching the ball on the perimeter, he makes really good decisions with the basketball. Not every time, but most of the time. It’s unique for a guy his size.”

Realistically, there was little way to know that based on the past two seasons. Padgett entered the season with only five assists – including none in 271 minutes last season.

But it goes deeper than production. Padgett played double-digit minutes in his first eight games as a freshman out of necessity because Dino Gregory was suspended. But when Gregory returned, then-freshman Jordan Williams already had asserted himself as a capable college player and Padgett’s role rapidly diminished.

The Gregory-Williams tandem dominated Maryland’s frontcourt minutes for the next two seasons. But with Gregory graduating and Williams departing for an eventual place in the NBA draft’s second round, Padgett is suddenly the Terps’ most experienced big man.

Turgeon, of course, isn’t measuring progress solely by offensive contributions. Padgett was crucial in limiting UNC Wilmington’s Keith Rendleman to five points in 29 quiet minutes in the opener.

James has become a lot better defender and a lot better team defender,” Turgeon said. “Our big guys are real important in the way we guard, communication, covering up the rim. He’s still not great at that, but he’s getting better. He’s really studied, he’s watched film with the coaches. He’s really put an emphasis on getting better defensively. I’m really proud of that.”

Whatever hiccups Padgett endures, Turgeon probably will have to live with them. The rest of the frontcourt rotation includes a redshirt freshman (Ashton Pankey), a senior who didn’t even play half as much as Padgett did last year (Berend Weijs) and a walk-on (John Auslander). Freshman center Alex Len will join that mix after Christmas.

In the interim, Padgett will be relied upon to provide significant interior help. After two years of struggling for minutes, he’ll have as many as he can handle – especially this weekend.

“I have a great opportunity to show people what I’m capable of,” Padgett said. “We’re not very deep in scholarship players, so we all have do our best.”

NOTE: Maryland will open next season against Kentucky in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic to be held Nov. 9, 2012 at the new arena in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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