Weight off shoul­ders this sea­son for Mary­land men

Baltimore Sun - - VAR­SITY | FROM PAGE ONE - peter.schmuck@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Sch­muck­S­top

Terps lost four starters — in­clud­ing two who made NBA ros­ters — but Mark Tur­geon will have a broader base of tal­ent and should be in bet­ter po­si­tion to ex­ploit the skills of ju­nior guard Melo Trim­ble.

Tur­geon also will not have to work with a ros­ter that in­cluded five stars who each had one eye on the road to the Fi­nal Four and the other on his po­ten­tial draft sta­tus.

“Ob­vi­ously, we were top five in most polls [last year] and this year I think we’re ranked, but it is dif­fer­ent,” Tur­geon said Tues­day at Mary­land’s bas­ket­ball me­dia day. “Be­cause it was the first time in a while that we were ranked so high, it was a lot on the guys. With that said, that was a fun team to coach. It was great … a great sea­son. But this team has got a lit­tle bit of a chip on our shoul­der, maybe. Hun­gry … look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenges that lie ahead.”

The Terps have a well-re­garded fresh­man class and an­other top-flight trans­fer in former Duquesne for­ward L.G. Gill to go with some key up­per­class­men and an al­most-healthy Dion Wi­ley. They might not go as far last year’s team, but Trim­ble says they’re go­ing to have a lot of fun find­ing out.

“We had a lot of fun last year,” Trim­ble said. “But I think this year is go­ing to be even more fun just be­cause of the low ex­pec­ta­tions, no pres­sure at all. Just go out there and play bas­ket­ball.”

Trim­ble was quick to ac­knowl­edge that he and his fel­low starters al­lowed them­selves to get caught up in all the spec­u­la­tion about where and whether they might get picked in the NBA draft. Di­a­mond Stone and Jake Lay­man did get cho­sen. Rasheed Su­lai­mon and Robert Carter Jr. did not. Trim­ble chose to stay in school af­ter strug­gling to build on his ter­rific fresh­man sea­son.

He has come back de­ter­mined to em­brace his lead­er­ship role this sea­son and keep the fo­cus on the here and now.

“I just changed my­mind­setto the fact that I just want to get bet­ter and just worry about be­ing at col­lege,” he said. “I don’t want to worry about be­ing at the next level, be­cause that pretty much hurt my­self and hurt the team last year. A lot of us were just think­ing about the next level too much. Coach Tur­geon said it, and he was right. So this year I’m more about the team and try­ing to do good things for the Univer­sity of Mary­land and just rep­re­sent where I’m from.”

Not that any­one who played on last year’s team looks back on it with re­gret. The Terps nearly ran the table in their non­con­fer­ence sched­ule, los­ing only to No. 9 North Carolina on the road. They won 10 of their first 12 Big Ten games, but lost four of their last six in con­fer­ence and lost in their sec­ond game in the Big Ten tour­na­ment. They de­feated South Dakota State and Hawaii in the NCAA tour­na­ment be­fore los­ing to Kansas in the round of 16.

“We had a great sea­son,” se­nior Da­monte Dodd said. “Even though peo­ple ex­pected us to go far­ther and do more, I think we came out and we did what we did and it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but the Sweet 16, that’s great. I’ve never been there. A lot of guys have never been there. It was a good ex­pe­ri­ence, and I’m happy that we made it that far. I’d like to get back there this year.”

That’s cer­tainly within the realm of pos­si­bil­ity. The Terps, who open the sea­son Nov. 11 against Amer­i­can, have a lot of tal­ent, and Tur­geon has a pretty good track record of putting his play­ers in a po­si­tion to suc­ceed. But he’s not ready to start look­ing be­yond the team-build­ing stage.

“I’m just en­joy­ing it,” Tur­geon said. “I en­joy this time of year ev­ery year, no mat­ter what it is, and you’re just try­ing to get the most out of them, but this team has made it even more en­joy­able be­cause they are so coach­able.”

Read more from colum­nist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at bal­ti­more­sun.com/schmuck­blog.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

The Mary­land men get ready to pose for pic­tures dur­ing me­dia day at Xfin­ity Cen­ter. The Terps were ranked third in both ma­jor polls at this point last sea­son and went on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003, los­ing in that round. This year’s team is ranked 21st.

Coach Mark Tur­geon, left, poses with se­nior Da­mante Dodd. “We had a great sea­son,” the se­nior said of 2015-16. “It was a good ex­pe­ri­ence, and I’m happy that we made it that far.”

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