Mark Turgeon, Terps try to move past tumultuous offseason and on to new success

After losing five players to transfers, fourth-year coach optimistic that 'the pieces fit'

June 21, 2014|By Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — This is not how Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon envisioned the Terps would enter the Big Ten Conference.

Coming off a disappointing 17-15 season and having lost half his scholarship players in a tumultuous four-week stretch this spring, Turgeon begins his fourth year at Maryland under increased scrutiny and facing more pressure than at any other point in his coaching career.

Despite speculation that he finds himself on the proverbial hot seat for the first time in his 17 seasons as a Division I head coach, Turgeon said that what the Terps lost in experience with the departures of five transfers, they more than make up for in cohesiveness.

Energized by the arrival of a top-10 recruiting class as well as two transfers, Turgeon's words and body language suggest he is more confident about the program's direction than at any other point since he was hired to replace recent Hall of Fame selection Gary Williams in May 2011.

"I think the pieces fit," Turgeon said in an interview Friday at Comcast Center. "I feel like we have some really, really good pieces. When you're putting a team together, it's all about pieces. … We've added guys who have a really good feel for the game."

For the 49-year-old coach, the honeymoon that seemed so obvious throughout most of his first season, and for parts of his second — notably, the Terps' 13-1 early-season start and postseason run to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals — is clearly over.

While many Maryland fans were once patient and excited about the program's future, more than a few now seem tired of waiting for Turgeon to turn things back around.

Longtime booster Barry DesRoches said the coming season "is a very important year for Mark," but that Turgeon's contract security — his contract runs through the 2018-19 season and pays him nearly $2 million a year — keeps it from being "make or break" if the Terps miss the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight season.

"I think the metric for me, personally, is to see how we're playing at the end of the year compared to the beginning of the year. What's the personality of the team? Have we improved?" said DesRoches, a Terrapin Club member and former member of the booster organization's board.

"He's got to be introspective about what didn't work well the first few years and what he can do better. We've got to go out there and play hard-nosed basketball. We're not going to win the Big Ten championship, but we've got to be out there as a team that's got no quit in it."

Turgeon said he doesn't feel any pressure from fans or the media, partly because he is not as active on social media as other coaches and partly because he says he never reads anything that is written about him or his team.

There is another reason, one that explains his success at Wichita State and Texas A&M and why he took over at Maryland.

"I have so much confidence in myself, the people around me and this great basketball program," he said. "I don't feel any pressure. I'm more relaxed today than at any point since I took the job. And I mean that. The hardest part is explaining it to recruits."

Recalling a conversation he had with the mother of one recruit who had mentioned his "hot seat," Turgeon said he told her: "Hot seat? I'm on fire. Melo Trimble. Dez Wells. Dion Wiley. Jared Nickens. Michal Cekovsky. Trayvon Reed. Robert Carter.

"I said: 'If I get any hotter, I don't know what I'm going to do.'"

Even with his offseason additions, Turgeon said he understands the growing frustrations of a fan base that will be important to the team's success going into the Big Ten, where home sellouts are more the norm than the exception.

"If they weren't mad, then I wouldn't want to be here," Turgeon said. "I like that the fans care enough to say bad things or say great things. I know just how I feel day to day. I'm in a much better place. I'm happier. I feel great about all the things that have happened this spring.

"I'm going to miss the guys [who left], but I feel great about everything. The hard part was going through it and waiting for summer school to get started and to where we are now. I think I'm really going to enjoy being between the lines with this group next season."

Fresh start

Seth Allen, whose May departure came as the biggest surprise after a sophomore season in which he finished second on the team in scoring, said Friday that his public reasoning for leaving Maryland might have belied his true feelings.

"A lot of us didn't want to burn bridges. We didn't want to leave on the wrong note," Allen, now at Virginia Tech, said in a telephone interview from Blacksburg on Friday. "We didn't want to put a lot of it out in the media. We wanted to do what's best for us and our family."

Allen acknowledged that "as a Maryland fan, of course you would be suspicious if five guys left at the same time, but you've got to put yourself in their shoes and see why they left."

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