COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon gave his team several days off leading into Christmas, and junior power forward Robert Carter opted no to stick around town. Instead, he hopped on a flight and headed home to Georgia.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder said it was a much-needed, albeit brief, reprieve.
Although Carter hardly rested on his laurels.
Not a day after arriving in Atlanta, Ga., and trekking over to hometown Thomasville, Ga., Carter rounded up his high school coaches and his father for a workout. Carter’s quickly-assembled clique met each morning at a local gym, honing in on positioning; footwork; defense; and conditioning.
“It’s hard staying out of the gym for me,” Carter said after the Terps (11-1) dismantled Marshall Dec. 27, 87-67. “I’m always working out. I love the game so much, so I just worked and used that time off to get better. Working on my overall game, defense, rebounding, blocking shots – everything.”
Carter certainly didn’t have to shake off much rust in his return to College Park Dec. 27, racking up a team-high 19 points; eight rebounds; a steal; and two blocks in just 24 minutes. He did misfire on five 3-pointers, leading to Turgeon’s off-handed comment about “shooting too many jumpers,” but Carter finished a solid 8-of-16 from the field.
“I feel like I’m one of the hardest players to guard in the country one-on-one,” Carter said. “One-on-one, I feel I’m always going to be efficient, because I’ve been doing it all my life. It is easier with talent around you.”
Yes, Carter’s confident and realizes his talent, but cocky he is not. The forward always makes sure to deflect credit during interviews. He’s conscious many of his open looks come courtesy of Melo Trimble’s and Rasheed Sulaimon’s pinpoint passing.
So when asked about the offense running through him as opposed to Trimble, naturally, Carter demurred.
“No,” he said. “I just feel like we made the right plays. Guys getting good shots, keeping aggressive, getting open. That’s how our offense works.”
Even so, Carter was quite good Dec. 27. As it’s been all season, Carter’s versatility was on full display, starting the game with a jump-hook in the lane; followed by a pair of short, face-up jumpers; proceeded by a 3 at the top of the key; leading into a muscle-up layup that resulted in a 3-point play; and capped off by an elbow triple. And that was just during the first half.
Carter ceded way to Maryland’s backups during the latter 20 minutes, but the junior forward still had a few more tricks up his sleeve. He knocked down a turnaround jumper to give Maryland a 22-point lead, and finished his night with a crowd-igniting throwdown in transition.
“Rob could be one of the best players in the country,” point guard Jaylen Brantley said previously. “He helps other guys around him get better.”
Freshman center Diamond Stone, who had 16 points and seven boards off the bench, concurred.
“Rob can beat you in so many different ways,” Stone said. “He gets after it, and he’s great on defense too. He works hard in practice and is a great role model for younger guys like me.”
Speaking of defense, that’s one area Carter, and Turgeon for that matter, would like to see improvement. While the Georgian has his moments, actively protecting the rim and stuffing opposing bigs inside, he’s had some issues locking down on the perimeter. Marshall, which ended up shooting 19 percent from range, didn’t really take advantage, but in previous games Carter hasn’t always closed quickly enough on outside shooters.
“On the defensive end, I feel like I can … dominate on that end. I have to continue working on moving my feet and closing out. Rebounding the ball, they say you can always be selfish rebounding, so I have to be selfish with that,” Carter said. “And then just working on offense. So really just everything. I can always get better in every aspect of the game.”
Work ethic isn’t something Turgeon and Co. are concerned about. The headman knows the Georgia Tech transfer is always searching for an edge, concentrating on minute details that can elevate his game. Which is why Turgeon has said Carter, perhaps the Terps’ most complete player right now, is far from a finished product.
“There’s a lot more we haven’t seen yet as we move forward,” Turgeon said before. “There’s more he can still show.”