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Maryland Basketball During Maryland Football Week // Kevin Willard: Bald Turge or Pitino-Lite?

That’s right, it’s not Turtle Time unless there’s some hoops talk.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-TCU vs Seton Hall Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

As anyone knows who read my Maryland Terrapins Basketball Reverse Hot Seat articles regarding Mark Turgeon’s replacement, Kevin Willard was a candidate from the get-go, a candidate that nobody wanted.

So, what happened? Of course, Seton Hall’s Willard became Turge’s replacement. In a bit of irony, the evil, trolling bastards that comprise most of the OTE audience twice voted Rick Pitino as their most desired candidate to replace Turge. What actually happened is that Maryland replaced Turge with a successful coach from the Pitino coaching tree.

That’s right, the Terps have Pitino-lite. Much less sleazy with not nearly as much winning. Willard was an assistant under Pitino for 10 years, from 1997-2007, when Pitino coached the Celtics, then Louisville.

Kevin Willard: Are we excited?

I never advocated for Willard as Turge’s replacement and was pretty let down upon his hiring. The reason? One of the big reasons Turge was shown the door was Maryland fans wanted deeper runs in the NCAA Tournament (a boring style of offense and boring OOC schedules that were very cupcakey were also consistent complaints).

Willard’s NCAA success closely resembled Turge’s record, never making it to Sweet 16, but consistently making the tournament. Naturally, my reaction was, “why replace the real Turge with bald Turge?”

Having done a little digging, Willard walked into a shitshow when he became coach at Seton Hall in 2010. The previous regime was horrific, and had completely alienated the local AAU and local high school coaches. So, Willard had to recruit to a school in Newark, NJ, that had no relationships with the local AAU coaches and high school coaches, that did not have the benefit of P5 conference football money to fund the basketball facilities and coaching salaries. I pretty quickly realized Willard basically achieved the same success as Turge under much more difficult circumstances with less talented players. I concluded Willard was a better coach than Turge.

But, I was still skeptical. After all, being a better coach with lesser players still resulted in the same success as Turge. Who is to say that Willard can bring in better players at Maryland than he could at Seton Hall?

One of the stipulations of Willard’s contract at MD was a guaranteed budget for his coaching staff. I like this. One of my theories in football and basketball success is that a quality coaching staff is requisite for success. And it takes money to hire and retain good assistant coaches. The result has been that Willard basically assembled a very solid coaching staff:

  • Grant Billmeier was rumored to have been offered the St. Peter’s job after their coach left to become Willard’s replacement at Seton Hall. But, turned down this HC opportunity to move with Willard from Seton Hall to Maryland.
  • Tony Skinn was lured away from Seton Hall to Ohio State. Willard was able to entice Skinn to reunite with Willard at Maryland, stealing Skinn from OSU.
  • David Cox left the Rhode Island HC job where he achieved moderate success to return to his DMV roots and work for Willard.

Solid staff with good local recruiting ties. Baltimore has always been its own little island and does not consider itself part of the DMV talent pool. Willard reserved another staff position for a guy with strong ties to Baltimore, which seems to be paying dividends.

I don’t know what transpired, but Turge basically stopped recruiting after bringing in the class with Darryl Morsell and Jalen Smith. His experience with the Mitchell twins in which they abruptly left the team in the fall of 2019 messed with his recruiting cycle. But, he just seemd to stop trying to recruit high school kids after that episode. Given his lackluster recruiting from 2020 onward, his departure was just a matter of time. Maryland was tired of Turge, and Turge just seemed done.

Conversely, Willard seems to be embracing this opportunity and his enthusiasm is markedly higher than at anytime during Turge’s tenure. Willard’s first recruitng class was literally starting from scratch. There were no valuable recruits that Turge had recruited that Willard just had to convince to stay. Wilard has brought in two nice guards from the transfer portal: Jahmir Young from Charlotte and Donald Carey from Georgetown. His next priority was front court depth where he was not nearly as successful.

Four-star power forward Tafara Gapare chose DePaul over Maryland (largely due to his connections with a new hire to DePaul’s coaching staff). Also Maryland lost to the G-League in getting Washington state transfer Efe Abogidi. With slim pickins, Willard settled on Canadian Caelum Swanton-Roger and St. Francis-Brooklyn transfer Patrick Emilien.

Who? Exactly. I think Caellum Swanton-Roger is legitimatley underrated, but MD still has serious front court issues. Also, MD secured a commitment from 3-star wing Noah Batchelor. Solid, but will not contribute significantly in the 2022-2023 season.

The current team as constructed is a borderline NCAA tournament team that will finish in the middle of the pack in the B1G.

Willard has really focused on DMV talent with an intensity that I have never seen from Turge. For the 2023 class, Maryland has secured a committment for 4-star Jahnaton Lamothe. 4-star guard Jamie Kaiser, also a top-100 player, will deciding soon and Maryland seems to be in good shape. The Terms are also competing for the services of front court player Papa Kante amd seem to have as good a chance as anyone. MD also looks to be OK with Jahnathon Lamothe’s AAU teammate 5-star center Derik Queen, who is in the 2024 recruiting class.

Summary:

Willard is an improvement over Turge in enthusiasm, playing style and coaching ability. If Willard can deliver on his ambitious recruiting targets in the next two cycles, then Willard is an appreciable improvement over Turge and I expect them to be consistently in the top-4 of the B1G and regularly get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. But, Maryland is woefully behind the NIL play-for-pay game, so Willard’s recruiting success is not even cloae to being a guarantee.

All I can say is that at least he is seriously trying for this talent. While he is clearly busting his ass in the recruiting game, how successful he is in bringing in top talent to College Park is still a big unknown that will greatly affect his success at Maryland.