Fresh­man class prom­ises to give Terps a big boost

Cowan, Huerter, Jack­son bring court sense, likely to play key roles im­me­di­ately

Baltimore Sun - - MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL - By Don Markus don.markus@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/sport­sprof56

COL­LEGE PARK — Even be­fore he first got to see them prac­tice with the team last month, Mary­land men’s bas­ket­ball coach Mark Tur­geon could sense there was some­thing spe­cial about three mem­bers of his fresh­man class.

Point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., guard Kevin Huerter and for­ward Justin Jack­son stood out when the Terps re­cruited them or watched tape of their games.

Now, as No. 25 Mary­land opens the 2016-17 sea­son tonight against Amer­i­can at Xfin­ity Cen­ter, the three fresh­men who head­line a five-man class that’s ranked in the top 10 na­tion­ally are ex­pected to be­come a ma­jor part of Tur­geon’s reg­u­lar ro­ta­tion — and of the Terps’ fu­ture.

“The young guys are ready,” Tur­geon said Thurs­day. “They’re ready to help us.”

Judg­ing by what they did in last week’s ex­hi­bi­tion game, the three f resh­men could make the big­gest im­pact of any group Tur­geon has had in his six sea­sons at Mary­land. Un­like last year’s only fresh­man, Di­a­mond Stone, none of this year’s group is con­sid­ered a one-and-done.

They’ll try to re-en­er­gize a team that reached the Sweet 16 last year but lost four starters.

Cowan, a 6-foot, 170-pound guard from St. John’s in Wash­ing­ton, started in the 95-61 ex­hi­bi­tion win over Di­vi­sion II Catawba and took over point guard du­ties when ju­nior Melo Trim­ble rolled his an­kle early in the first half. He said his lead­er­ship skills have im­proved since prac­tice be­gan last month.

“Ob­vi­ously the last game, Melo went down, I felt like I had to take a big­ger role in terms of be­ing more vo­cal with my team­mates in terms of run­ning the of­fense,” said Cowan, who had 15 points on 5-for-8 shoot­ing to go with five as­sists in 24 min­utes.

Huerter, a 6-7, 190-pound guard who was Mr. Bas­ket­ball for New York state as a se­nior at Shenen­de­howa, said he and the other fresh­men have grown ac­cus­tomed to prac­tices that are longer and more phys­i­cal than the play­ers were used to in high school.

It’s un­usual for a group of fresh­men to im­prove a team’s col­lec­tive bas­ket­ball IQ, but that ap­pears to be the case this sea­son.

“To be in Coach Tur­geon’s of­fense, you re­ally have to know how to play the game,” said Huerter, who had eight points and a team-high six as­sists in 24 min­utes of the ex­hi­bi­tion game. “I think that was def­i­nitely a big em­pha­sis on the type of guys Sea­son opener Tonight, 7 TV: Big Ten Net­work Ra­dio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM Coach: Mark Tur­geon (sixth sea­son, 114-59) 2015-16 record: 27-9, 12-6 (tied for third in the Big Ten) Tour­na­ment re­sult: Lost to No. 1 seed Kansas, 79-63, in an NCAA South Re­gion semi­fi­nal in Louisville, Ky. Key non­con­fer­ence games: at Ge­orge­town (Tues­day), vs. Pitts­burgh (Nov. 29) Player to watch: Ju­nior point guard Melo Trim­ble, who re­turns af­ter ini­tially putting his name into the NBA draft. Trim­ble sprained his an­kle in the ex­hi­bi­tion game last week but re­turned to prac­tice Wed­nes­day. “He had no pain. He ac­tu­ally looked fresh,” Tur­geon said. “He’s looked good all sum­mer, all fall, all prac­tice.” Skinny: De­spite los­ing four starters, in­clud­ing NBA sec­ond-round draft picks Jake Lay­man and Di­a­mond Stone, the Terps could be bet­ter than last sea­son. A lot will de­pend on Trim­ble’s play­ing as well as he did as a fresh­man, when he was first-team All-Big Ten (cho­sen by the me­dia) be­fore play­ing with an in­jured ham­string for the sec­ond half of last sea­son. The big­gest ques­tion mark is whether the Terps have enough scor­ing in­side to re­place Stone and Robert Carter Jr. What they lose on of­fense they gain de­fen­sively in­side, where se­nior cen­ter Da­monte Dodd should get help from grad­u­ate trans­fer L.G. Gill at power for­ward as well as ju­nior cen­ter Michal Cekovsky and red­shirt sopho­more Ivan Ben­der, both of whom will likely not play in the opener be­cause of in­juries. Cekovsky (sprained toe) and Ben­der (frac­tured wrist) could be back in a cou­ple of weeks. — Don Markus Coach Tur­geon was try­ing to re­cruit. High bas­ket­ball IQ guys who can do a lot of dif­fer­ent things on the court.”

With the ad­di­tion of grad­u­ate trans­fer L.G. Gill, a 6-8, 230-pound power for­ward who played three years at Duquesne, the new­com­ers have added out­side shoot­ing and ath­leti­cism. They also seem to be more will­ing passers than many first-year play­ers Tur­geon has coached at Mary­land.

A case in point is Jack­son, who grew up in Canada idol­iz­ing Magic John­son.

“At a young age, I re­al­ized how un­selfish I was, and I was pretty tall and I could drib­ble the ball like him,” said Jack­son, a 6-7, 225-pound for­ward with a 7-3 wing­span. He had 15 points, six re­bounds and three blocked shots in the ex­hi­bi­tion. “The way I see it, if I make my team­mate look good, I look good at the same time. I feel like I can do a lot of things on the court, but at the end of the day, the one thing I love is to see my team­mates shine.”

The three fresh­men have made an im­me­di­ate im­pres­sion on their more ex­pe­ri­enced team­mates.

Ju­nior wing Jared Nick­ens, who’s been pushed in prac­tice by Huerter and Jack­son, said he was sur­prised by how well they meshed from the start and how ma­ture they seem to be, on and off the court.

“It seems like they played in col­lege al­ready,” said Nick­ens, whostarted ahead of both in the ex­hi­bi­tion and led the Terps with 17 points on 7-for-11 shoot­ing. “They’re very poised. They’re go­ing to be great for us; they’re go­ing to con­trib­ute in dif­fer­ent ways. It’s go­ing to be a fun sea­son.”

Tur­geon com­pares his fresh­man class, which also in­cludes for­wards Micah Thomas and Joshua To­maic, to the class two years ago that was led by Trim­ble and in­cluded Nick­ens, Dion Wi­ley and Michal Cekovsky.

Aside from what Trim­ble of­fered as a fresh­man, the three fresh­men in this year’s group will be counted on im­me­di­ately to do a lot more than those in the 2014 re­cruit­ing class.

“Anthony’s some­thing that we haven’t had since I’ve been here,” Tur­geon said. “He’s fast, he’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be the fastest guy in the league; I can’t imag­ine any­one faster. He can re­ally de­fend, he can pick up full-court, pres­sure the ball, fast on the break.

“Kevin Huerter’s one of the best shoot­ers I’ve ever coached. I’ve coached a lot of great shoot­ers. Justin just makes plays. Our guys re­ally like those play­ers. They know we need them to keep the pro­gram where we want to keep it. So they’ve ac­cepted them.”

Trim­ble, who is ex­pected to play against Amer­i­can af­ter sprain­ing an an­kle in Satur­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion vic­tory, said that while the fresh­men “picked things up re­ally fast,” they’ve still needed some guid­ance.

“From the lead­er­ship we have from me, Jared, Dion, Da­monte [Dodd], the guys who’ve been here, we’ve talked to them a lot, where the spac­ing is on the court and just how to play col­lege bas­ket­ball,” Trim­ble said. “It’s not high school any­more. You come to a team with re­ally good play­ers, you have to fit in. It’s all about win­ning.”

Huerter is not sur­prised to see how far the fresh­men have come but ac­knowl­edged that there is still a tran­si­tion to play in col­lege.

That doesn’t di­lute this group’s po­ten­tial. And if the prom­ise of the 2016-17 sea­son can be traced back to one day, it’s May 31.

Af­ter sign­ing Thomas, a three-star prospect, ear­lier in the spring, Tur­geon and his staff pur­sued Jack­son, a four-star re­cruit. Jack­son orig­i­nally com­mit­ted to Ne­vada-Las Ve­gas while play­ing at Find­lay Prep in Las Ve­gas, be­fore the Run­nin’ Rebels saw their coach leave for an­other school. Jack­son re­opened the search process.

The night Jack­son com­mit­ted to the Terps, Trim­ble also called Tur­geon to say he was go­ing to with­draw from the NBA draft and re­turn to Mary­land.

“I got Justin Jack­son to com­mit to me about 8:30 and Melo called me about 9,” Tur­geon said. “It was a pretty good half an hour right there. My staff did some amaz­ing things late. It was ex­haust­ing, but we did some amaz­ing things to be a pretty good team this year.”

KEVIN RICHARD­SON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Fresh­man Kevin Huerter com­petes in the dunk con­test at Mary­land Madness on Oct. 14 at Xfin­ity Cen­ter. “Kevin Huerter’s one of the best shoot­ers I’ve ever coached,” coach Mark Tur­geon said. Go to bal­ti­more­sun.com/terps to see videos of Huerter and Tur­geon.

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