- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 4, 2021

By securing two transfers in the span of an hour Saturday, the Maryland basketball team identified and appeared to fill the two most glaring weaknesses on its roster for next season.

Coach Mark Turgeon — who’s expected to sign a contract extension in the coming days — secured center Qudus Wahab and point guard Fatts Russell from the transfer portal.

Wahab, the 6-foot-11 center who previously played at Georgetown, provides the Terrapins an interior presence so often lacking in the 2020-21 campaign. Without much size on the roster, Turgeon ran a small-ball system that worked in some matchups.

But the team’s lack of size was also a detriment in other contests, such as the season-ending loss to Alabama in the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson Tide pulled down 15 offensive rebounds and converted that into 23 second-chance points.

Wahab could go a long way in addressing the issues down low. He averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as a sophomore with the Hoyas, his first season as a full-time starter. Under coach Patrick Ewing, Wahab developed into a major frontcourt presence.

Qudus has been great for us,” Ewing said after Georgetown’s first-round win in the Big East Tournament last month. “Last year, he was playing behind Omer Yurtseven. This year, he’s the man. We need for him to dominate both on the offensive end and the defensive end. And he’s working towards that.

“To me, by the time he leaves here — whenever that is, hopefully it’s two more years — he’s going to be the best big in the country,” Ewing continued. “We just have to get him the ball when he’s open, and part of his maturation is that when he gets doubled, being able to pass the ball out. And he’s been doing a much better job of doing that of late.”

Wahab’s exit leaves the Hoyas searching to replace an integral piece of their lineup this offseason — a trend that has struck the school frequently in the past few years. However, 7-foot center Timothy Ighoefe could develop more next season. Ewing is also adding Ryan Mutombo, a 6-foot-11 center who’s ranked as a four-star recruit.

Wahab had some of his best games for Georgetown down the stretch of the season. In the Hoyas’ loss to Colorado in the NCAA Tournament, Wahab posted a career-high 20 points to go with his 12 rebounds. He scored in double figures in 12 of his final 14 games.

His presence down low will allow for the Terrapins to play a more traditional style, as they did when Jalen Smith commanded the paint in 2019-20. Donta Scott, the 6-foot-7 forward, won’t be charged with playing the five as frequently as he was last season.

Adding Russell as a transfer is another big get for Turgeon, who’s contract was set to expire following the 2022-23 season. A contract extension will provide a steadier base for recruiting.

Russell averaged 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists last season for Rhode Island in 2020-21. He posted a season-high 27 points in the Rams’ penultimate game of the season. Russell gives the Terrapins an intriguing lineup, a mix of experience and scoring acumen.

He’s also a natural point guard, a much-needed piece after Anthony Cowan departed without a replacement. Hakim Hart, who was recruited as a wing, took over point guard duties midway through the campaign. He could still see time there after holding his own at the position.

Maryland could return much of its roster next season. Chol Marial, a 7-foot-2 center who played sparingly in College Park, announced he was entering the transfer portal Wednesday. Beyond him, there could be little turnover.

Guard Darryl Morsell could return for a fifth year, taking advantage of the NCAA’s waiver for another year of eligibility. Depending on Eric Ayala’s and Aaron Wiggins’ decisions for the NBA draft, the Terrapins could welcome back their top two scorers.

With Wahab and Russell in the mix, Turgeon appears to have successfully retooled the roster, ready for another go after a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.

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