“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. ”
Bill Parcells, 1997
Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon has proven himself to an accomplished grocery shopper under the new NCAA transfer rules. However, the judges have yet to rule on his ability to cook the meal. A couple of the appetizers he’s served up have been far less than satisfying.
Turgeon and his top Assistant Matt Brady deserve credit for the Terps recruiting haul. Maryland has identified, recruited and landed some of the finest basketball players in that nation through the transfer portal. The implementation of new rules regarding transfers and the onset of immediate eligibility for transfers has forever changed the recruiting aspect of the job. The manner in which coaches obtain the “groceries” has been fundamentally altered. Some indicate they will no longer shop at high schools, they much prefer the transfer market. Turgeon and Brady successfully employed a multi-pronged approach to building his current roster.
College basketball, at the Division 1 level, has undergone a dramatic transformation in just a few short years. Today, D1 basketball players are “free agents” able to enter the transfer portal simply by texting or emailing their head coach, compliance officer or athletic director. In addition to being able to enter the portal at any time, college basketball student-athletes are now also immediately eligible upon transferring, just like those in non-revenue sports have been for years.
Keep in mind, that’s not the only big change…
The bulk of college basketball student-athletes have been receiving monthly cost of attendance stipends for several years. These stipends range from $300 to over $1,000 per month depending on the university. These stipends are in addition to the unlimited meals that came about after UConn’s Shabazz Napier told the media that “there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving” in April 2014.
But wait… There’s more…
College student-athletes are now able engage in activities that involve the use of their name, image and likeness for commercial or promotional purposes.
College basketball players can get money! The plot thickens…
In pursuit of said money, college basketball players can employ professional service providers such as, but not limited to, agents, tax advisors, marketing consultants, attorneys, brand management companies or anyone who is employed or associated with such persons.
The game is unrecognizable to those that have been around it for than a decade or so… It’s totally different… College basketball has been radically transformed.
Ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, the notion that kids could unilaterally initiate a transfer with a text or email to a compliance officer was unimaginable. Student-athletes were powerless. Walter Byers, Executive Director of the NCAA from 1951 to 1988 captured the essence of the power dynamic when he wrote that the NCAA is “firmly committed to the neoplantation belief that the enormous proceeds from games belong to the overseers (the administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may receive only those benefits authorized by the overseers.” The one sided power relationship was highly problematic and easily abused by vindictive coaches. I’ve watched first hand as coaches have totally controlled kids and denied them opportunities to play by refusing to sign off on transfer requests.
All that one-sided neoplantation bullshit is gone… Basketball student-athletes can freely choose to go wherever they please.
On top of that, student-athletes are immediately eligible when transferring for the first time. In effect, there is complete free agency in college basketball. And… The players can now get money… Some can get a lot of money…
The previous college basketball paradigm (pre-2021) is impossible to understand through the conceptual framework of the modern college basketball paradigm (post-2021).
Shit changed for real.
Recruiting is different now. With new rules in place, teams can become older and more experienced in one off season. Roster management is different. About one-third of scholarship players entered the portal last season. The financial relationships are different. The power dynamic between players and coaches has shifted considerably. The job description for those responsible for maintaining a competitive D1 college basketball program has changed radically.
Some college coaches have made extensive use of the newly emergent transfer portal “market” to shop for groceries. Turgeon, in particular, has done very well recruiting this market. He also managed to land Julian Reese, one of the top Big 10 freshman, from a Saint Frances a traditional Catholic high school.
Now… Turgeon is charged with the task of “cooking” a Final Four meal with the new ingredients.
Last season, the Terrapins finished in 8th place with a record of 17-14 overall and 9-11 in Big Ten play. Making it to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, the 2020-21 Terps, arguably, overachieved. Eric Ayala led the team in scoring with 15.1 ppg. He shot the ball at a respectable 43.7% overall and 33.7% from behind the 3-point line. Aaron Wiggins came in right behind Ayala at 14.5 ppg. Donta Scott averaged 11.0 ppg and led the team with 6.0 rpg. Darryl Morsell scored 9.0 ppg and grabbed 4.0 rpg while being named Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Hakim Hart provided steady point guard play while chipping in 7.1 ppg.
That team got by largely on grit and determination. Morsell and Scott were dogs on the defensive end. They just willed their way into competing on most nights. Maryland was team that just wouldn’t die. You had to kill them and kill them again like Jason Vorhees or Freddie Kruger… They kicked and screamed until the very end.
However, once that end came, the new realities of college basketball hit Turgeon and the Terps right away. The NBA and other college teams took some groceries from the Maryland pantry. Aaron Wiggins turned pro. He’s currently active with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Darryl Morsell transferred to Marquette, where he is averaging 22.5 ppg. Jairus Hamilton transferred to Western Kentucky, where he is averaging 15.3 ppg and grabbing 4.3 rpg. Also gone are seldom used big men Galin Smith to graduation and Chol Marial transferred to Oregon State.
Faced with a depleted roster, Turgeon creatively and agressively used the new rules to his advantage. In one momentous weekend in April, Turgeon got a contract extension and secured commitments from two of the top available college “free agents.” Former Georgetown center Qudus Wahab and former Rhode Island point guard Daron “Fatts” Russell committed to going the Terps.
Whoaaaaa… These are experienced and proven players from programs in highly competitive leagues. Both immediately eligible…
Such moves were impermissible under the pre-2021 college paradigm. Rapid reloading with veteran players from the rosters of other teams is some new era shit. Some coaches, like Turgeon, have proven to be far more nimble and adept than others.
Turgeon would dip into the transfer market a couple more times during the off-season. The Terps secured the services of Ian Martinez, a transfer from Utah and Xavier Green, a graduate student from Old Dominion.
Since these “free agent” commitments were announced, there has been a palpable buzz and sense of anticipation surrounding the Maryland program. On paper, the Terrapins appear to be poised for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Indeed, Turgeon got everything on his grocery shopping list. He has plugged in an All-Big East level performer at the center spot and an experienced All-A10 guy at point guard. Donta Scott, Eric Ayala and Hakim Hart are proven Big 10 performers.
On paper… Maryland is formidable…
However, meals are not prepared in the grocery store and actual games are not played on paper.
Thus far, the Terps have played five games, all of them in the friendly confines of the Xfinity Center. Maryland opened with a convincing 83-69 win over Quinnipiac. They beat a resilient George Washington squad 71-64. Next, Vermont was knocked off 68-57. Then came defeat…
George Mason came to Maryland and shot 50% (12-24) from behind the 3-point line on the way to upsetting the Terps 71-66. Tonight, Hofstra had 4 players in double figures as they extended the Terps to the wire.
The last 2 or 3 games beg the question: Why hasn’t the “on court” performance of the Terps been commensurate with the “on paper” assessment of this talented bunch? What’s missing?
Well… from where I sit… The missing ingredient is the “extra pass.”
It’s absence is very noticeable. All too often, the ball comes to an abrupt stop and a low percentage, well-defended shot is attempted. The absence of the extra pass makes the game much more difficult than it has to be. In order to meet the lofty goals attached to this team, the extra pass needs to be found and immediately integrated into the offensive strategy.
Somebody’s gotta find it… and, soon…
At it’s core, the extra pass represents the very essence of team sport. It says “I have a shot, a good shot… a shot no one will complain about… But if I pass, you have a better shot.”
The extra pass is selfless.
The extra pass is contagious.
The extra pass is a winning play.
Bear in mind, the extra pass has been very much present at the Xfinity Center in some of the recent games. Unfortunately, it’s been Maryland’s opponents making effective use of it to get clean looks at 3-point shots. To make matters worse, teams have been knocking them down with alarming regularity resulting in a loss and uncomfortably close wins at home.
Conversely, when Maryland has the ball, the extra pass is glaringly absent. As a result, it’s tougher to get buckets. Easy, open shots are few and far between. For some key Terps, it’s been a struggle to get going on the offensive end.
Eric Ayala is shooting 35.5% overall and 30.3% from the 3-point line, down from 43.7% and 33.7% last season. Donta Scott is shooting 43.2% overall and 31.3% from the 3-point line, down significantly from 49.8% and 43.8% from the 3-point line.
Ain’t gonna win Big 10 games like that… Ain’t gonna get drafted like that…
When they find the extra pass, this Maryland team has a chance to be special.
In addition to facilitating the team goal of winning games, the extra pass will help individual players get where they want to go. For Maryland alums, the goal is the NBA. Aaron Wiggins is in the NBA. Kevin Huerter is in the NBA. Bruno Fernando is in the NBA. Jalen Smith is in the NBA. Of course, Eric Ayala aspires to play in the NBA. Donta Scott wants to play in the NBA. Fatts Russell wants to play in the NBA. Qudus Wahab has NBA aspirations.
Winning Big 10 games, NCAA Tournament games and putting young men in the the professional ranks are not mutually exclusive goals. For this group, the key to accomplishing both is the extra pass. See, for example, Villanova basketball.
The question for Coach Turgeon is: How do you get a group of recently acquired, talented players to understand that the best way to achieve their individual goals is to help their teammates accomplish their goals? Dean Smith did it… John Thompson did it… John Chaney did… Bob Knight did it… Dawn Staley does it… It’s not easy. That’s why they pay those guys 1, 2, and even as much as 3 million per year to figure it out.
Turgeon is a strong recruiter. He has quickly adapted to the rapidly shifting college basketball landscape. He’s one of the best portal shoppers in the game. He knows where to find and how to come home with grade ingredients, no question. Now it’s time to prepare the meal… Can he cook?
Maryland alums and fans are really hungry!
The recruiting was excellent. Now, some good old-fashioned basketball coaching is required to create an unselfish and cohesive unit. The extra pass will definitely be needed to get Maryland through the gauntlet that is the Big 10 regular season and beyond the first weekend on the NCAA tournament.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, start Angel’s lil’ brother and let the extra pass bake in…