- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Eric Ayala will return to the Maryland basketball team for his senior season, the program announced Wednesday. Ayala had declared for the NBA Draft in April while maintaining his college eligibility, testing the waters after the guard’s most prolific scoring season of his college career.

“I’m excited to announce I’ll be returning to Maryland for my senior season,” Ayala said in a statement. “I took my time throughout this process and am appreciative of the feedback I received. I can’t wait to get to work with our team and play in front of the best fans in the country once again.”

Ayala played a major role for the Terrapins as a junior, averaging a team-high 15.1 points a game to go with his 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists each outing across 28 starts.

The Wilmington, Delaware, native scored a career-high 24 points against Nebraska in February, part of a stretch of eight straight games in which he finished in double figures. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Ayala’s 23 points helped prod Maryland to a victory against UConn.

“I’m proud of Eric for taking his time throughout this process and obtaining the feedback needed to make an informed decision on his future,” coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. “Eric is one of the top guards in the Big Ten Conference and possesses experience at the highest level of college basketball that can’t be taught. He will earn his degree from a top-notch university and continue to build on his tremendous basketball resume to set himself up for the future.”

Particularly down the stretch of the season, Ayala’s performances highlighted his influence on the team. After guard Anthony Cowan and forward Jalen Smith departed, Ayala and guard Aaron Wiggins became the two main scorers, and they both averaged over 14 points per game.

Both players — as well as guard Darryl Morsell — entered their names in the NBA Draft following the season. Morsell has since withdrawn and transferred to Marquette for his final season of eligibility, while Ayala has withdrawn to return to Maryland. Wiggins still has a decision to make. He earned a spot at the NBA Draft Combine last week and has until July 7 to decide whether to remove his name from the draft.

The Terrapins receive a boost in Ayala deciding to come back for another campaign. Turgeon has added a plethora of transfers, including former Rhode Island point guard Fatts Russell and former Georgetown forward Qudus Wahab. Russell’s presence can allow Ayala to play as more of a shooting guard, the position he held when Cowan was around.

Maryland also announced the addition of Pavlo Dziuba on Tuesday, a transfer from Arizona State. The Ukraine native will be a sophomore this season and turns 18 in July; Dziuba was the youngest Division-I basketball player last year, although he appeared in just eight games.

The Terrapins are projected as the No. 12 team in the country, according to Bart Torvik’s preseason poll. Ayala’s return will help make that projection a reality. Should Wiggins also come back to College Park, the presumed starting lineup would be filled with experience. Russell, Ayala, Wiggins, Wahab and forward Donta Scott seem to be the five main pieces, although Hakim Hart, James Graham and Julian Reese should also have roles.

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