COLLEGE PARK – For the Maryland football program, the recruiting equivalent of hitting the trifecta involves cornerback Jalen Tabor, offensive lineman Damian Prince and linebacker Melvin Keihn.
Among local prospects, those are the top three targets remaining on the team’s board, although landing versatile athlete Demetrius Johnson would be an added bonus.
Prince of Forestville High and Tabor of Friendship Collegiate are the top-rated players in Maryland and District of Columbia, respectively. Both are being personally pursued by ace recruiter Mike Locksley, who spearheads the talent-rich areas of Prince George’s County and D.C. for the Terrapins.
Keihn is an important target because he is the top senior at Gilman School, the perennial powerhouse in Baltimore City, where head coach Randy Edsall has worked hard to build relationships. Gilman head coach Biff Poggi soured on the Terps during the tenure of head coach Ralph Friedgen after the fiasco involving prep All-American Victor Abiamiri and never sent a single player to College Park.
Current starting fullback Kenneth Goins was the first Gilman product to sign with Maryland since the early 1980s, and quarterback Shane Cockerille followed as part of the 2013 class. Edsall would love to keep the pipeline going by getting Keihn, who is ranked seventh in the state and No. 17 among the country’s outside linebackers by Rivals.com.
Johnson, who is listed as a wide receiver but could wind up playing any number of positions on the collegiate level, is ranked No. 156 nationally and No. 3 in Maryland by Rivals. The 6-2, 202-pounder, who was recently selected for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, has repeatedly told recruiting reporters he favors the Terps.
Maryland could do without Johnson or Keihn, but Tabor and Prince almost amount to must-gets, especially considering that so many other members of the Maryland Top 15 and D.C. Top 5 have committed elsewhere. Securing both would amount to a major coup for Edsall and company, and it seems quite plausible it could happen.
In a recent interview with the Terrapin Times, Tabor said he really liked Maryland and routinely talked with Prince and Keihn about going together to the future Big Ten school. The Terrapins appear headed for a winning season and bowl berth, which Tabor indicated was a huge factor in luring the key local recruits.
“They got to keep winning games to get top recruits like myself, Damian and Melvin,” said Tabor, who has set up official visits to Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Maryland. “We all like Maryland, and if they keep winning games, that would be big.”
Tabor plans to graduate in December and enroll at the college of his choice in January. If the lockdown corner picks the Terps, he intends to help persuade Prince, Johnson and Keihn to join him in College Park.
Turgeon Has Lineup Options
There has been much speculation during preseason about what type of starting lineup head Mark Turgeon will put on the floor, and what style of basketball the Maryland Terrapins will play.
Some have suggested the lack of a proven post player will lead Turgeon to spread the floor more and implement a drive-and-dish type of offense. The Terrapins had success with opening the floor and giving slashers such as Dez Wells and Nick Faust freedom to attack the basket late last season when they made impressive runs in the ACC Tournament and NIT.
Of course, such talk stems from the loss of 7-1 center Alex Len to the NBA. Len, who provided a real presence in the post, allowed the Terps to play the inside-outside game that Turgeon prefers. There is no proven replacement for Len, as returning low post players Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell have not shown they can score effectively with their backs to the basket.
As freshmen, Cleare and Mitchell were both limited offensively – scoring on offensive put-backs or easy dunks/layups off interior feeds. Neither has displayed any sort of reliable post moves, although both claim to have worked hard to improve that aspect of their games.
On media day, Turgeon vowed to continue playing with a true center and said Maryland will attempt to always field a lineup that features Cleare or Mitchell.
“Traditionally, Charles or Shaq will be our starting center throughout the year,” Turgeon said. “We’ll try to have a big guy on the floor most of the time.”
If that’s the case, both sophomores will need to pick up their offensive production, as Mitchell averaged 5.5 points and Cleare a mere 3.3 points in 2012-2013. Both big men have worked hard during the offseason to lose weight and improve their conditioning.
“I don’t think people have really seen what I can bring to the table. I’ve always been a dominant force, so that’s what I’m going to do this year,” Cleare said. “I’m going to do all the dirty work – be physical, rebound and defend. My offense will come. I’m not concerned about that right now.”
Reality is that Turgeon has plenty of options and numerous lineup combinations he can employ. If Cleare or Mitchell starts at center, it means at least one proven player will come off the bench, as there are more perimeter options than starting spots.
It appears sophomore Seth Allen will take over the starting point guard position by default following the transfer of Pe’Shon Howard to USC. Faust has played the point out of necessity on occasion the past two years, but is not a natural fit there and clearly more effective operating on the wing.
Allen too often had a shoot-first, pass-second mentality as a freshman and needs to turn that around. The lightning-quick left-hander, who has proven he can get past just about any defender, will now be asked to run the offense and set up teammates.
“The ball is going to be in my hands 90 percent of the time,” Allen said. “So I have to make the right play. We’ve got a lot of freedom on offense with the spacing for us to create and make the easy play. When we get out of control, that’s when (Turgeon) starts taking that freedom.”
Freshman Roddy Peters has been impressive during preseason and appears set as the backup point guard. Based on practices and one intra-squad scrimmage, the scouting report on the 6-3, 195-pound product of nearby Suitland High is that he’s terrific in the open floor, but needs work on directing a half-court offense. Teammates rave about Peters’ ability to push the ball in transition and either get to the basket himself or dish to open teammates.
Wells was Maryland’s best all-around player a year ago and will be in the starting lineup. The strong, athletic and versatile 6-6, 215-pounder led the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) while ranking second in assists (113), third in rebounding (4.9 rpg) and third in steals (34).
Wells must display a more reliable jump shot in order to solidify his status as an NBA prospect, but has proven he can score in a variety of ways. He is also a terrific defender and will team with Faust to cover opponent’s top perimeter scoring threats.
So that leaves Turgeon with three good players for two spots, as Faust, Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz could each make a case for starting. Faust is Maryland’s most experienced player with 70 career games (53 starts) under his belt, while Layman and Smotrycz are the team’s most accurate three-point shooters.
Turgeon keeps referring to Smotrycz as a “stretch four,” and the Michigan transfer has the size (6-8, 230) and strength to defend and rebound on the interior. The same cannot be said for Faust and Layman, who are both long and lean.
“Evan is a major weapon. He can really shoot it from deep, he has a mid-range game and he can post up,” Turgeon said. “He can also really pass and figure out how to get guys open in our offense. He’s a huge asset that way. On the other hand, he can guard a big man because he did it at Michigan. He can also get out and guard the little guy. He’s a pretty valuable piece in our puzzle.”
Hearing such high praise leads one to believe Smotrycz will receive a significant amount of minutes at both forward positions. But Turgeon is a loyal sort, and as a result may initially start Faust, who was his first true recruit after being hired at Maryland. Turgeon had to convince the Baltimore native to stick with the program after being released from his scholarship obligation following the retirement of previous head coach Gary Williams.
On the surface, it appears that Layman would open the season as sixth man, although most observers believe he is the only sure-fire NBA prospect on the roster. The professional scouts absolutely love the length, athleticism and versatility of the skinny (6-8, 205) Massachusetts native, who can drain three-pointers or throw down impressive dunks with equal ease.
Layman wowed observers with his play during summer pickup games at the Comcast Center, and led Maryland in scoring during a three-game tour of the Bahamas. He was by far the best player on the court during the team’s initial intra-squad scrimmage, canning four three-pointers and taking the ball strong to the basket in scoring 20 points in one half of action.
“Jake has no idea how good he is. He doesn’t recognize his potential,” Wells said. “He’s capable of hitting 10 threes in one game. He’s capable of blocking shots, dunking on people and guarding anyone from 6-2 to 6-10. He just has no idea how great he can be, offensively or defensively.”