- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon didn’t walk into Comcast Center for the Terrapins’ exhibition game last week with a music flourish or a fist pump.

He didn’t leave with a drenched dress shirt or a postgame chat with the school’s broadcast crew while standing near the sideline he just prowled for two hours.

Turgeon, who has remarked on several occasions since his hire in May about his lack of ego, is undoubtedly comfortable in his own skin.

He almost has to be following Terps legend Gary Williams, who retired after 22 seasons, 14 NCAA tournament trips, two Final Fours and the Maryland athletic department’s forever moment, the 2002 national title.

So things aren’t the same. Ultimately, they probably don’t need to be, even if it is striking that the program’s pilot who pulled the Terps out of their darkest days is no longer around.

“Not having that face around the office or his presence in the gym itself during practice and not running the flex offense is different for us,” guard Sean Mosley said. “It’s different for guys who come and watch Maryland basketball. I think it was for the better, and I think coach Turgeon is doing a great job of selling himself to the University of Maryland.”

The first results on Turgeon’s tenure will trickle in Sunday, when Maryland plays host to UNC Wilmington in its season opener. The reality of his first year is if the bar isn’t so low Turgeon can step over it, a modest hop will suffice.

The Terps were picked ninth in the ACC, and that was when it was assumed Pe’Shon Howard would play point guard. He’s out until at least January with a broken foot. Freshman center Alex Len won’t be eligible until after Christmas. For the first 10 games, Maryland will play with seven scholarship players.

Williams at one point took the Terps to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament seven times in 10 years, a consistency that was probably underappreciated at the time. Eight years have come and gone without that feat, though the Terps did win an ACC tournament (2004) and shared an ACC regular-season title (2010) in that span.

Turgeon’s long-term task is re-establishing Maryland as a nationally elite program, and he’s encouraged by the support he’s received since arriving from Texas A&M.

“It’s been great, probably better,” Turgeon said. “Maryland fans want to win, so they accepted me from day one. They don’t want to go through a losing coach and then have to hire somebody else and then go through that transition. They want me to be the guy. They want me to win. The whole area’s been that way - the high school coaches, the AAU coaches, the fans.”

There’s little reason to doubt him. If there’s one striking quality about the former Kansas point guard who also had head coaching stops at Jacksonville State and Wichita State, it is his candor.

His team is playing poor defense? He’ll say it. Things go poorly if it’s clear nothing good comes from a player taking eight dribbles before trying to take a shot? He points it out. And if he’s that way in public settings with the media, there’s no question he’s especially blunt with players.

“He’s a straight shooter, but if you mess up two times in a row with the same thing, he’ll have a spicy side,” center Berend Weijs said. “He will tell you, and then he’s very direct with you. He’ll say ‘If you don’t do it, you’re not going to play.’ “

Williams, who rolled up 461 victories at Maryland, has attempted to maintain a distance from the day-to-day happenings of the program since his retirement.

Turgeon has described a positive relationship with Williams, who did attend the school’s midnight madness festivities last month.

Nonetheless, there are random reminders Turgeon is taking over for a man whose name will soon adorn the Comcast Center court.

“Every now and then you run into a dummy who’s like, ‘Hey, I’d hate to be you.’ And I go, ‘Really? I love being me. What a great opportunity I have,’ ” Turgeon said. “Except for the media, I don’t really talk about it.”

The subject will fade soon enough. Turgeon has games to coach with a depleted team, and plenty of job security with an eight-year contract. That’s enough time for him to make just as indelible an impression among Terps fans as his predecessor.

“I’ve said many times I don’t think about Gary,” Turgeon said. “I think about doing the best job I can. … All due respect to Gary, I want to be a legend. I want to be the next Gary at Maryland. That’s why I chose Maryland.”

So the Terps have a new coach who wants to craft a lasting legacy in College Park? Maybe things aren’t so different after all.



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