- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

At a recent team meeting, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon asked his players to write down their goals for the upcoming season.

For most, the goals were broad: Play better defense. Be a leader. Always put up extra shots after practice. Maintain a proper playing weight. Some of the older players set statistical benchmarks, aiming to average a certain number of points or rebounds. But all of them, Turgeon said, were realistic.

The fourth-year coach then walked around the room, collected the goals, and re-distributed them amongst the team. Each player received another player’s goals, typically younger players being paired with veterans and vice versa. The idea, Turgeon said, is for each of them to hold one another accountable, for the players to enforce their own rules.

The source of the activity?

“Oh, I stole it from that movie,” Turgeon said with a grin, then struggled to remember its name.

He was referring to “When the Game Stands Tall,” a film about a high school football program released in theaters in August. The story follows a team in California that wins 151 straight games over more than a decade.

“The thing I took from that movie is the kids took ownership of the team,” Turgeon explained. “I think this group’s mature enough to do that.”

Turgeon is counting on it. During Maryland’s media day at newly renamed Xfinity Center on Tuesday, the coach addressed the state of his program after the transfers of five regular players. He praised the four incoming freshmen, including local products Melo Trimble and Dion Wiley. And he looked ahead to a season in which the Terrapins will try to reach their first NCAA tournament since his arrival in College Park.

With a program in transition, does Turgeon feel any pressure?

“I feel zero pressure,” he said flatly, “because I believe in what we do. I believe in these guys. I feel pressure every year to get the most out of my team, and most years, we do that. So that’ll be the same thing we do this year. We’ll do the best we can.”

As the Terps enter their first season in the Big Ten, they will do so with a largely revamped roster and a brand-new motion offense, a scheme somewhat similar to what the San Antonio Spurs use.

Nick Faust, Shaquille Cleare and Roddy Peters are gone. Charles Mitchell and Seth Allen have been erased from last year’s online roster entirely. A talented freshman class and a pair of transfers will try to replace them.

“It is a lot of pressure,” Trimble said. “A lot of people are doubting us because we lost players, and it’s a new group. A new class came in, a new style of play. And so that’s why I feel there’s a lot of pressure.”

Turgeon has asked his team to not speak about last season, even among themselves. He wants to put the program’s second 17-15 season in three years, and the rash of transfers that followed, in the past.

It showed in his press conference. When first asked about the departures, Turgeon said, “I love my team.” When later asked specifically about the losses of Allen and Mitchell, he again dodged the question.

“It’s a great opportunity for our guys,” Turgeon said. “Because the players coming in are so great, maybe that’s why things happened the way they happened. Love my team. I’ve got 11 guys on scholarship that are all really good players, want to be here, so we expect to have a great year.”

Senior forward Evan Smotrycz had surgery on his fractured left foot Tuesday and will miss the next four to six weeks. His injury, coupled with the transfers, will push several younger players in prominent roles. Trimble will likely start at point guard. If the season were to start this week, Turgeon said sophomore Damonte Dodd at center. Wiley, freshman Jared Nickens and 7-foot-1 freshman Michal Cekovsky also are expected to receive significant minutes.

Turgeon said he has placed emphasis on defense, intensity and passing in the early stages of practice. His players agreed.

“We have a smart team this year,” senior Dez Wells said. “We take advantage of, I guess, any opportunity that presents itself. We just take what the defense gives us.”

While his players listed and exchanged their season goals at the meeting, Turgeon did not participate. If he had, reaching the NCAA tournament likely would have been on it. Though making it to March does not add any pressure or change how he will approach this season, the reality of the situation remains.

“Unfortunately, a lot of things are based on the NCAA tournament,” Turgeon said. “That’s our goal. That’s our goal every year. You’ve got to be good. You’ve got to be lucky, also. So we’ll see. This team’s more than capable of doing that, but it’s not what we think about every day. We think about getting better every day and doing the best we can.”

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