Matt Bracken: The anticipation over the debuts of Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell has been building for months, but discounting what Padgett could potentially provide in his last year in College Park would be a mistake. Mark Turgeon said in an interview last week that Padgett is “much improved.” After coaching Padgett earlier this month during a five-game exhibition tour in Belgium, Germany and France, Loyola assistant coach Greg Manning is inclined to agree.
Manning, son of the former Terps player with the same name, grew up a Maryland fan and still watches the team whenever he can. Because Maryland’s 2011-12 season featured an offense dominated by Terrell Stoglin, Manning wasn’t sure what Padgett would provide for his team.
“I know these guys from afar, but you don’t really know people [until you coach them],” said Manning, who led the 11-man squad through Europe via the Global Sports Academy. But “obviously him and the kid from Providence [LaDontae Henton] were the two best players on the team. He plays so hard every game. He brought it every day. He plays extremely hard. He’s very skilled inside. He knows how to play hard and get tip-ins. We got him the ball and he had good post moves. He doesn’t have a lot of elevation off the ground, he’s not super explosive, but he’s so strong. … He’s so much stronger, physically [than the other big men on the tour]. He’s just an animal. He played really hard.”
Manning’s squad – which featured players from Loyola, Mount St. Mary’s, Brown, Wake Forest, Portland and UNC-Greensboro – finished the eight-day tour 5-0, with the closest result a two-point victory for the Americans. But despite the spotless record, Manning said the competition they faced was tough. All five opponents were EuroLeague teams, many of which featured former U.S. college stars. Padgett took advantage of playing against more finesse big men by averaging 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
“They had some big kids, bigger than us,” Manning said. “[Padgett] was so much stronger than that. They’re built to shoot the 3. But he bullied them and was stronger than those guys. A couple of those kids could play high-major.”
Everyone expects so much from Cleare, a borderline five-star center, and Mitchell, a four-star power forward. Turgeon raved about both in my Q&A with him last week, and said he’s counting on them to make contributions as freshmen. But he also mentioned Padgett unprompted, and I get the sense that dismissing him from conversations about the starting five would be foolish. He took a big step last year in averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ups those numbers again as a senior.
Based on everything he saw from Padgett last week, Manning has little doubt that the senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., will be a factor for Maryland this winter.
“I think anytime you have freshmen coming in, it’s not easy. It’s a big learning curve,” Manning said. “[Padgett] being through so much, he knows the system, he knows the competition and he knows the league. I don’t think he’ll have any problem being in the rotation this year. You know how smart he is and he picks things up quick. The top-level kids, everything [is undetermined] until they get to campus. I’m confident James will have a lot of minutes.”