COLLEGE PARK – Maryland basketball wrapped up its 2014 recruiting class on Nov. 13 when it received signed letters-of-intent from the four-man class of shooting guard Dion Wiley, point guard Melo Trimble, swingman Jared Nickens and center Trayvon Reed.
Now it’s time for head coach Mark Turgeon and staff to turn their attention to the Class of 2015, and the Terrapins have already compiled their early wish list.
At present, it’s unclear exactly how many scholarships Maryland has to offer. Reportedly, for the 2013-2014 season, 12 players are on scholarship – Seth Allen, Shaquille Cleare, Damonte Dodd, Nick Faust, Jonathan Graham, Jake Layman, Varun Ram, Spencer Barks, Charles Mitchell, Roddy Peters, Evan Smotrycz and Dez Wells.
Graham, a transfer from Penn State who recently received an NCAA waiver that granted immediate eligibility, is believed to be on a one-year scholarship that is not guaranteed. Ram, a transfer from Division III Trinity College who walked on at Maryland last year, is also on a one-year scholarship.
Barks, like Ram, was awarded a scholarship for this season simply because the Terps had a couple available. Since Turgeon has stated the team’s current scholarship count stands at 12, it means that Conner Lipinski, who was on scholarship last year, now holds walk-on status.
Another factor moving forward is the possibility that Layman and Wells, the team’s highest-rated professional prospects, could declare early for the NBA following the current campaign.
Subtracting Barks, Graham and Ram then adding the four 2014 signees brings Maryland to the full allotment of 13 scholarships for the 2014-2015 campaign. If Wells returns to school, the senior class for that season would consist of the following players: Faust, Smotrycz and Wells. Graham would also be a senior that year, but since his future scholarship status is unclear, we will leave him out of the discussion.
On paper, that would mean that Turgeon would have at least three scholarships to offer 2015 recruits. That figure would increase if Layman turns pro before his senior season.
For purposes of recruiting strategy, let’s assume Layman stays in College Park all four years. That would give Maryland a roster breakdown that looks like this: Guards – Roddy Peters, Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Seth Allen and Jared Nickens; forwards – Jake Layman, Charles Mitchell, Shaquille Cleare, Damonte Dodd; Center – Trayvon Reed.
A review of the various recruiting websites seems to indicate that Maryland has already extended offers to 17 members of the Class of 2015. Current high school juniors claiming scholarship tenders from the Terps are: point guard Bryant Crawford; wing guards Franklin Howard, Malachi Richardson and Donovan Mitchell; small forwards Jaylen Brown, Derrick Jones, Marcus Sheffield and Jordan Murphy; power forwards Carlton Bragg, Horace Spencer III, Jeremy Miller, Marcus Derrickson, Josh Sharma and Shawntrez Davis; centers Diamond Stone, Daniel Giddens and Doral Moore.
Tough Start To Season
A smorgasbord of observations based off Maryland basketball’s season-opening loss to No. 18 Connecticut.
• Faust Too Free-Wheeling: It’s got to be frustrating to Turgeon that, after three years in the system, Faust still plays so out of control. The 6-6 junior should be much headier considering he has 70 career games under his belt.
Faust’s poor decision-making was on display again in the season-opener as he jacked up ill-advised three-pointers early in possessions, drove headlong into the teeth of the defense and forced passes that weren’t there. There were also a few occasions when he spent too long admiring a jump shot or layup and was late getting back on defense, allowing his man to make an uncontested layup.
Too often, Faust looks like an inexperienced freshman who doesn’t understand situational basketball. That certainly seems the case when he launches three-pointers with less than 10 seconds elapsed on the shot clock.
It’s a shame because Faust is probably the second-most athletic player on the team behind classmate Dez Wells and can do a lot of things to help the team. He rebounds well for a wing guard and has the ability to be a lockdown defender when he wants.
Hopefully, it won’t be a season-long struggle for Turgeon and staff to get Faust to make better decisions while not being so wild and unpredictable.
• Peters Will Start Soon: It’s only a matter of time before Peters takes over as the starting point guard. Peters flashed big-time ability against UConn and just needs more seasoning before being handed the keys to the offense.
Peters made a couple of spectacular moves in the opener, breaking a defenders ankles with a crossover dribble in the open court and taking the ball all the way to the basket for an acrobatic layup then later burning his man and getting to the rim before delivering a beautiful no-look pass forward Charles Mitchell for a dunk.
The 6-3 freshman from nearby Suitland High also made some rookie mistakes, committing a couple turnovers from simply playing too fast.
Peters, who is tall, rangy, fast and quick, showed against a tough opponent with quality guards that he has what it takes to be the team’s starting point guard.
Allen was slated to handle that role before suffering a fractured foot in preseason practice. Allen, who is due to return at some point in January, is not a natural point guard, but he was Maryland’s best option based on experience.
Turgeon was forced to move Wells to the point, where he looked like a fish out of water against Connecticut. Wells is not adept at running the offense and setting up others, and forcing the junior standout to do so takes away from what he does best.
Wells needs to be off the ball and on the wing where he can create scoring opportunities for himself without worrying about getting others involved. With Wells as the primary ball-handler and distributor, Maryland loses one of its top scoring threats.
Peters, on the other hand, looks very comfortable driving and dishing or otherwise creating for others. As soon as Turgeon feels comfortable that the youngster understands the offense and is properly acclimated to major college basketball, Peters will be starting at point guard for the Terrapins.
• Shaq Needs To Step Up: Cleare was the most highly touted member of Maryland’s four-man 2012 recruiting class. It was considered a real coup for Turgeon when the Terps landed the consensus four-star prospect, over Texas A&M, Baylor and others.
Based on freshman performance, Cleare was the weakest of the bunch as Allen, Layman and Mitchell were all more valuable contributors. Truth be told, Cleare was somewhat of a disappointment – averaging just 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 37 games with eight starts.
Cleare’s struggles were partly blamed on playing behind starting center Alex Len, but the truth is that he had just as much opportunity as Mitchell to earn playing time at power forward. Both rookie big men were overweight and out of shape, but Mitchell displayed better ball skills and more of a motor while also proving his worth as an aggressive rebounder.
There was talk about Cleare being vastly improved this season and the 6-9, 265-pounder certainly talked a good game – telling any reporter that would listen how he was going to dominate down low in 2013-2014.
That seems unlikely based on how Cleare played against UConn when he contributed just four points and one rebound in 19 minutes of action after starting. The Houston resident tries hard, but he just isn’t very effective or productive.
Cleare has no reliable post move to speak of, so he doesn’t provide Maryland with a back-to-the-basket threat on offense. He doesn’t jump all that well and therefore isn’t much of a shot-blocker.
Frankly, the Bahamas native looks just like what he is – a raw player who did not begin playing organized basketball until his freshman year at The Village School.
We’ll reserve judgment since Cleare lost valuable development time this past offseason with a nagging back injury. However, there is no question he has not lived up to the hype so far.
“We need more out of Shaq, there’s no doubt about it,” Turgeon said after the opener. “He didn’t play a lot last year, so this is a new stage for him and different minutes. We need him to play better and he will.”