/strolls in in rumpled Oxford shirt
OK, everybody settle down, as you can see, your Maryland staffers are out today, so I’m Mr. Akers and I’m gonna be covering your postmortem. But I want all of you to know, I plan on teaching, so I hope all of you are planning on learning. So, give me one second here and let’s see what Mr. Carver left as a lesson plan.
Hmm...”play video of 2002 national championship game. Hashtag fire Turgeon.” Oh, come on DJ.
/spins chair around, sits, leans on back of chair with crossed arms
Alright guys, I’m gonna rap at you for a second here. Because it really is a crazy story, about a coach who made it eight games into a season, with a contract extension signed less than a year before, before throwing his hands up and walking away from it all.
Coming off of a better-than-expected 2021 finish, a rebuild season after sharing the 2020 Big Ten title on the back of Anthony Cowan, Mark Turgeon had bolstered a thin roster with transfer additions PG Fatts Russell and C Qudus Wahab. Alongside decent returning pieces like CG Eric Ayala and PF Donta Scott, there was some reason for optimism from the outside.
Those closer to the program would apparently have told you otherwise, though. Even with a conference title still relatively fresh in their minds, many fans were dissatisfied. Off the court, Turgeon’s high school recruiting efforts had foundered terribly despite a deep well of local talent and decent success in sending players to the NBA. Finally, the contract extension negotiated with new AD Damon Evans, who did not hire Turgeon, lowered the buyout into a very manageable territory, and evidently Turgeon did not come out of that interaction convinced of his own long-term security in his job.
Against this backdrop, with persistent ‘Fire Turgeon’ chants audible in Maryland’s home games, maybe it’s less surprising than we all thought when, after an early December loss to Virginia Tech dropped Maryland to 5-3, the school announced Turgeon’s resignation, effective immediately.
Assistant coach Danny Manning, the one-time Kansas star and Wake Forest head coach, became the interim head coach. Who knows if Turgeon had a plan that might have led the team to better results; he did, after all, get the 2020-21 team to outperform expectations.
But Maryland’s frontcourt, even with Wahab, was routinely overwhelmed in the burly Big Ten, and a frontloaded conference slate didn’t help. Despite a surprising home romp over Illinois in late January, Maryland stumbled to a 3-11 conference start before winning four of their last six in the regular season.
A quick exit from the Big Ten Tournament at the hands of Michigan State allowed all attention to officially turn to where most Terrapin fans’ minds presumably had been since the first week of December: the future, and in particular the future captain of the program.
Enter Kevin Willard, who makes the trip down I-95 after a fairly successful 13-year run at Seton Hall. Willard got his coaching start with Rick Pitino way back in Pitino’s days with the Celtics and then followed him to Louisville. He jumped from there to three unremarkable years at Iona before moving on to Seton Hall.
Maryland fans may need to be prepared to be patient, though. Willard took quite a while to get things moving at Seton Hal - in his first five years there, he made a single NIT and never got higher than tied for 7tn in the Big East. Things did pick up from there, though; in his last seven years, the Pirates made the tournament six times. Still, that run only led to one shared conference title, and Seton Hall did not make it past the Round of 32 in his tenure there.
Comparing that resume to Turgeon’s, this hire is a bit of a leap of faith for Damon Evans. Willard had a front row seat for how to run a filthy-to-the-core, but successful, program while acolyting for Pitino, but his results as a head coach are uninspiring. Given the lack of nationally prominent basketball programs in Metro New York relative to the available talent, it took Willard a long time to build a consistent tournament team, and there’s not much indication he’s a postseason difference-maker, either.
As of yet, the transfer drain hasn’t been as massive as one might expect; CG Marcus Dockery is off to Howard, F James Graham remains in the portal as he has been since right before Turgeon quit, and C Qudus Wahab entered a few weeks ago but left open the door for a return. Russell used up his eligibility this year. Eric Ayala could take the COVID year and return, but has not announced his intentions and did participate in senior day festivities. This...is a rebuild, no doubt about it, and as of this moment, there are zero commits signed up to join the program this fall, either from high school or via the portal.
OK, so, uhh, hopefully you all found that informative, and Mr. Carver also wants me to remind you that Maryland’s very good at lacrosse. He...uhm. He thought you all would care about that.