They defend. They rebound. They play smart team ball, usually looking for the extra pass. One way or the other offensively, they find ways to win games in the end, home or road. There aren't a lot of empty possessions, and they have multiple options.
How anyone could be describing this year's No. 11 ranked Terrapin men's basketball team (14-1 and winners of seven straight, 2-0 Big Ten) in such a light, after the disaster of 2013-14 and mass selfish player exodus, is startling.
But it starts up top with Coach Mark Turgeon, who reassembled his coaching staff, got rid of some dead roster wood and stayed the course. And added the critical piece so far in, ahem, savior Melo Trimble.
Turgeon and Co. lacked a competent quarterback in recent years -- shoot, Maryland has for years when it comes down to a pure, playmaking point guard. See Steve Blake, who was also handed the keys as a freshman lead guard, but was never this smooth and poised out of the box. It took the longtime NBA veteran and most tenured pro of Gary Williams' National Championship team the non-conference portion and then some to ramp up.
But Trimble quieted many a critic when he showed poise and selflessness beyond his years as he helped lead the Terps to wins in all 15 games so far, sans against No. 8 Virginia a month ago, a game Maryland was missing two starters.
“I kind of expected it out of him. I think I’d be surprised if he didn’t play with poise, because he always does and always has since I’ve been watching him the last four years,” Turgeon said. “Nothing he does surprises me. He continues to get better, be a better leader and a better point guard for our team.”
Still not a break-you-down athlete or dead-eye shooter, Trimble, who has struggled with his shot the last two games, can play the game fast or slow; gets the ball quickly into the hands of scorers in optimal positions; understands pace and spacing, as well as time and score; and best of all is a finisher, closing out games with his national free throw success.
If the jumper ain’t falling, well, the free throws are, keys in the last two wins in Big Ten play to get the Terps off to a 2-0 start heading into the Jan. 7 9 p.m. tilt at wounded Illinois (10-5).
“With the majority of the team, we don’t look at Melo as a freshman. He doesn’t carry himself as one. He’s very mature, high basketball IQ. Nothing, in my opinion, says, ‘That’s a freshman,’” Terps senior guard Richaud Pack said. “It’s easy to follow a guy who leads by example and does the right thing.”
Through the recruiting years, Trimble, despite some of his physical limitations, was always labeled a “winner,” and that's what he's provided for the surging Terps, who all of a sudden look like the second-best team in the Big Ten now.
Wisconsin is the class of the league so far, but Turgeon may be runaway choice of Coach of the Year, Trimble Rookie of the Year, and resurgent Jake Layman a first-teamer. How Dez Wells continues to ramp back up, coming off his wrist injury, will determine what postseason team he lands on. But all of a sudden things are looking up for Maryland, who came in No. 9 this week in the Coaches’ Poll and is attracting much national buzz.
Trimble, who also has great body balance and ability to draw contact (and get to said line), can and will knock down jumpers, but it just hasn't been his forte yet this season.
The assist numbers (3.0 per game) aren't brilliant either, but he does chip in 4.1 rebounds a game and shoots 87 percent from the free-throw line. And he has proven he can hit clutch jumpers when needed; they just haven't been falling as consistently as he would like (44 percent shooting, 35.4 percent from deep).
“I just listen to what my coach says. Whenever he tells me shots are going to drop, I believe in him,” Trimble said. “I’m going to just keep shooting.
“Coming of out of high school I was used to being the guy that had to get the shots up. But coming here, Coach Turgeon, he was a point guard himself, he just tells me, ‘Just relax. Just because you’re not getting up shots doesn’t mean you’re not a good player or not helping us win.’ He just keeps telling me to stay patient, and so far I have.
“But, honestly, I can do better with every part of my game -- offense, defense and being a leader. I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
Even so, the steady facilitator role he is playing -- a true lead guard who quickly gets the Terps into their sets and doesn't dribble around for 30 seconds while his teammates stand and look like last year's version up top -- is his most valuable asset.
He can play the game at multiple speeds -- see faster versus Oklahoma State, more of a grinder versus Michigan State -- doesn't get fazed, and has rarely blinked since the season started. No challenge beyond the now-Top 5 Cavaliers has been too big for Trimble and his supporting cast, who so far its been contagious, as everyone is getting in the extra-pass act and moving well off the ball.
“He’s just been doing unbelievable,” forward Jake Layman said. “His poise is amazing. His offensive ability, nobody can guard him right now. I’m excited for him that’s he’s playing so well, and I think the coaches are happy to have him.”
Layman has never shown such a strong floor game or confidence. Wells, after a hiccup trying to press too much at MSU, settled in against Minnesota and probably realizes he doesn't have to do it all anymore. Terps freshmen wings Dion Wiley and especially Jared Nickens have been fearless hoisting jumpers. And the yeoman big-man-by-committee of Damonte Dodd, Michal Cekovsky and Jon Graham have gotten better at rim protecting, and shown more offensive flashes, with each game.
Throw in another excellent addition piece – the fifth-year senior “glue guy” Pack, who rarely plays outside of himself -- and you have the makings of a contender.
For three years Turgeon didn't have the right guy up top, now he has struck gold with Trimble. No one knew how all the freshmen would handle things coming in, or how such a new (and offensively challenged) frontcourt would withstand the rigors of Big Ten play and beyond?
How would senior Evan Smotrycz, also coming off injury, blend with all the talented youngsters after, at times last season, playing outside the scheme and flow of the offense with too much one-on-one?
Heck, losing four-star seven-footer Trayvon Reed before his career ever started, not to mention having to sit talented Georgia Tech transfer and future pro Robert Carter, Jr., on the bench a season as a sit-out, all seemed crushing for a program in the preseason trying to finally catch a break.
It didn't end there, as last summer's Dalonte Hill/Curtis Malone embarrassment (the assistant, and AAU coach, that brought along Trimble) was another ugly chapter as the hits kept coming.
But the Terps are enjoying all the hits now, led by Trimble, and hitting the Big Ten in year one with a bit (like football this year) of a forgiving slate. And if they can withstand a roadie to Purdue this weekend as well, also off to a 2-0 league start and dangerous, well, with Rutgers and MSU at home next week the roof may be rocking at Xfinity Center once again as Terps fans -- and the nation -- are waking up to the program again after three sleepy years.
And it starts up top with Trimble, who always plays with an even keel, doesn't let emotion get to him, and keeps the same expression, perhaps that of silent assassin. Best of all, the temperate Trimble is making everyone around him look good, a sign of the best floor generals. There has been a sense of calm restored to the UMD program, both on and off the floor, and so far, 'In Melo They Trust' may be the team mantra.
“I’m just going to keep playing my game. I’m not going to let anything effect the way I play,” Trimble said. “I’m going to continue to get better and help the team win any way I can.”
Terps Taking Off With Trimble Up Top
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