COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There was a lot of talk about motion Oct. 21 at Maryland’s basketball media day. The Terrapin men’s and women’s team were both on hand and while Mark Turgeon touted a new motion offense, Brenda Frese talked about a team that will be in rapid motion this season.
And both teams are on the move into their new league, the Big Ten, but maybe you’ve already heard something about that. More on that later.
First, Turgeon switching up his basic offense is big news. He had a lot of his 2013-14 team in motion this offseason, too, but has ended up with a group he obviously enjoys. “I love my team,” he repeated several times, including whenever he was asked about last year’s 17-15 club.
As for the new scheme, he said this: “We have some guys that are very intelligent players and that allows us to do some things we haven’t been able to do in the past. It fits our personnel nicely. The good thing for us is if we become very efficient in our motion offense it just makes things a lot easier.”
Easy would be nice for a team that made the game look awfully tough at times last season. Turgeon has raved about how much better this team passes the ball and yet one of the concerns is high school All-America guard Melo Trimble making the transition to point guard on the college level. The motion offense takes some of the heat off Trimble, who said all the right things when he had a chance to speak to the media.
In regards to the pressure he’ll face this year, moving right in as starting point guard, Trimble talked about how Dez Wells has infused him with confidence from Day One. “He said they need me, and he likes what he has seen,” said Trimble. “That really helped my confidence. Not just Dez, but all the guys saying that kind of thing. As long as I have my teammates telling me I can do it, there’s really no pressure.”
Turgeon is certainly sold on his freshman guard. “He’s been as good as advertised so far in practice. Much more personality than I thought I was getting, which is great in that leadership role, and a much better defender. For a new guy, he’s one of our best defenders.
“He’s a point guard that can score. He makes guys around him better. It’s all about decision-making. You’ll see his decision-making. Until you see it…I’ve been fighting guys for two years whether he’s a point guard or a two guard and they’re going to see he’s a point guard.”
That doesn’t mean Wells, the Terrapins’ leader in scoring (14.9 ppg), total assists (69) and tied for the lead in blocks (27) and steals (34), won’t have the ball in his hands a lot: he will. “I expect Dez to be great,” said Turgeon. “A couple of things with him. One, he’s got to be a better team defender, which we’ve talked about. There’s not a better player in America on the break than Dez, and there’s probably not a better competitor in college basketball.”
There’s suddenly even more on Wells, though, with the loss of fellow senior Evan Smotrcyz, who had surgery on his broken left foot Oct. 21 and will miss six weeks. Smotrycz and Wells are the team’s too most experienced returnees and were both counted on for a lot of points and rebounds.
Smotrycz’s absence may accelerate the progress of a couple of other big guys through the nonconference schedule. Damonte Dodd, the lightly-used 6-11 sophomore, looked to have first dibs at center but now he’s guaranteed even more playing time and he’s got just the right attitude.
“I’ve been working on my post moves and I’m excited to take on the challenge,” said Dodd. “I’ve worked really hard. Coach says he likes that I know my role. I block shots, rebound and get open for dunks. I do what I need to do to help the team win.”
Turgeon said Dodd was the team’s most improved player and his ability to run the floor may make him a surprise scorer this season, too. Freshman Michal Cekovsky is the other option, a 7-1, 235-pounder further along physically then Alex Len when he got here, and a player that can be effective as the game comes to him.
“I try to protect the rim, I run the floor in the fastbreak for easy points and I try to get offensive and defensive rebounds,” said the Slovakian-born Cekovsky, who everyone on the team calls “Ceko” (pronounced “Checko”). “I’m having fun. The language has been a problem but everyone tries to help me. I’m doing good.”
The freshman class – Trimble, Cekovsky, 6-4 Dion Wiley of Oxon Hill and 6-7 Jared Nickens – has been highly regarded since they started assembling as Terrapins. With some of the attrition of last spring and the loss of Smotrycz to start the season, they’re all in for bigger roles.
“I don’t think our young guys are feeling pressure,” said Turgeon. “There’s a reason they’re ranked so high, because they’re good players. They can handle it. It’s a good group of new guys.”
Turgeon put the freshmen through a three-day defensive boot camp that Wiley said has them ready to hit the ground running. “It’s a big adjustment from high school to college, particularly defensively,” he said. “Coach Turgeon really preached that defense was going to be our main adjustment for the whole year.”
Turgeon said Wiley has “one of the best feels for the game of anyone” he has ever coached.” He loves the guard’s offensive instincts. Ditto Nickens, who he said was “one of the smartest, most cerebral basketball players I’ve ever coached.”
The result may be the positive chemistry that hasn’t always been apparent in Turgeon’s first three years in College Park. “They’re getting along great,” said the coach. “I think we have a group of guys coming back who are very determined to be successful…They respect each other’s abilities and this group seems to really get along between the lines and understand each other’s games. It’s been great so far.”
Turgeon cautioned he has only seen them through practices, that once playing time is involved things can get trickier but this is certainly a loose bunch that, like their coach, is looking ahead, not back.
Trimble showed the most confidence Oct. 21 when asserting he was the funniest guy on the team, something Turgeon referenced when he alluded to Melo’s “personality.” What Turgeon may not know is Trimble’s go-to move in the locker room is a pretty good impression of the coach when he gets mad.
Likewise, senior transfer Richaud Pack has brought some maturity to the mix but also a wicked sense of humor. When Dodd was playing around pretending to interview Pack, he asked the North Carolina A&T transfer what was the biggest difference coming from that level to play at Maryland. Pack showed his quickness. “The big men are much better at A&T,” he deadpanned.
The Aggies might have had more big men than Maryland does right now. With Smotrycz out, Turgeon was already talking about lineups with 6-9 wing scorer Jake Layman at power forward. Layman is another much-improved returnee. He looks a little thicker and his defense, we’re told, is a lot stickier.
“I think it’s been just getting more comfortable on that end, learning and watching more film of myself,” said Layman. “I think I’ve improved a lot. My biggest thing that everyone will see this year is my consistency. I was up and down some last year. This year I’m ready for a big year.”
Layman loves the new offense, too, and what it means for a shooter like him. “Coach has really just given us freedom out there now. He is letting us cut, screen, make reads. I think these next two weeks we’re really going to perfect it and you’ll see it in our first exhibition (Nov. 1 against San Francisco State at 2 p.m.).”
“Everything we do will flow into it,” said Turgeon of the offense. “Our guys will have confidence in it and they’ll know where the mismatches are and where to go as the season progresses. The guys really like it and it has been good for us.”
That free-flowing offense is part of a bigger picture with these Terps. Wells didn’t hesitate when asked the team’s strength this season. “Chemistry,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t really teach. It comes with wanting to be around one another and the willingness to work and get to know people. That’s our biggest asset right now.”
That kind of chemistry was a big part of the success of the women’s basketball team last year – 28 wins and all the way to the Final Four. They’ve got their eyes on that kind of season again this year but they’ll have to do it without All-American and all-time Terrapin Alyssa Thomas and two other senior starters.
Don’t bet against them. The motion from women’s basketball – voted the favorite to win the Big Ten in their first year in the loop – involves an emphasis on a wealth of perimeter players who will change the look of the team.
“By far, in my 12 years here at Maryland, I feel like this is one of the most athletic teams that we’ve ever had,” said Frese. “So with that you’re going to really see us defensively doing even more in terms of utilizing our athleticism, full court press, the ability to trap in the half court, to really throw a lot of wrinkles on the defensive end.”
Sophomore Lexie Brown headlines three sophomores who paced the team in a lot of ways last season. She’s the returning leading scorer at 10.1 points per game but Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (9.3 ppg) and the new and improved Brionna Jones (6.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) will also have big roles.
“I feel like anyone can take the big shots for us this year,” said Brown, who looks like the next big thing for Frese’s team. “We lost five seniors and we’ve had to adjust but we work to keep everyone confident because you never know who can step up and help you win. Our unity is our strength.”
Senior Laurin Mincy, junior leader Brene Moseley, emerging Malina Howard and Tierney Pfirman also have big roles.
“We’re much more versatile, people playing multiple spots and piggy-backing off each other,” said Mincy, who is entering the season completely healthy for a change. “We’re going to rebound together. We’re going to score together. We’re going to defend together.”
And that’s how you fill the void of losing someone like Thomas. Brown and Mincy can bring it from the perimeter and count on opponents having trouble keeping up with Jones down low. She has lost 35 pounds since the end of last year and is quicker and capable of more this season in a more uptempo attack.
“I think we can match up in the Big Ten and we’ve got a dynamic they haven’t really seen in our running style,” said Jones. “I’m excited to see how it goes this year.”
Kiara Leslie, a 6-0 guard, has the best chance to contribute a lot among the new freshmen but the Terrapins may need Baltimore native and redshirt freshman A’Lexus Harrison to help on the boards, Frese’s biggest concern looking ahead. Freshman Aja Ellison has been slowed from head to toe, dealing with a foot injury that kept her out all of last season, and then having her tonsils taken out this summer.
Frese said the move to the Big Ten doesn’t really change things for Maryland. “I think more than anything we always want to be ready from a national-caliber level,” she said. “I think how we’ve been able to establish our program to a consistent top 10 program and in the Final Four prepares us for the Big Ten.”
The women’s team opens the regular season with three straight home games, beginning with Mount. St. Mary’s on Nov. 14.
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