COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Around the bright red seats and dozens of banners hanging from the ceiling at the Comcast Center, Maryland’s second-year coach Mark Turgeon can be almost invisible — just the way he likes it.
Turgeon accepted the coaching position at a somewhat precarious time. Long-time coach Gary Williams, a lightning rod for alumni opinions both good and bad, had resigned in late March after the recruiting season had been completed.
Williams had literally saved the Maryland program when it was on probation for years from the previous coach’s (Bob Wade) breaking of NCAA rules.
Williams coached without many scholarships, coached with a tall guard/forward named Walt Williams who kept with Maryland even after the grisly probation was in place.
And then the Williams-coached Terrapins started beating Duke. And North Carolina. Maryland went to a long string of NCAA tournaments. Williams took an unheralded team to the 2002 national championship. His star had risen to a level most coaches only dream about.
But Williams still had detractors that pointed to the miniscule graduation rate of his players.
When his best player, a sophomore center, left school for entry into the NBA, Williams decided to retire from coaching while taking a university position as a fund raiser for mostly academic scholarships.
Maryland had very few players returning.
Turgeon came from success at Texas A&M, a so-called “football school” where his abilities were recognized but were also playing along the shadowed edges because of the Aggies football team and those of Texas, Baylor, and Texas Tech holding court in the same state.
Turgeon started at Maryland by trying to convince the few athletes Williams had recruited for the 2011-12 team to keep true to their commitments and play for the Terrapins. Secondly, Turgeon went out recruiting on his own and made some scant progress.
Last year, his first Maryland team worked through a schedule filled with lesser lights. The pre-conference slate was filled with teams with not much winning history nor drawing power.
Turgeon now has four freshmen in his 10-player rotation. That group has only two seniors.
Turgeon’s second year in College Park has the same group of unrecognized opponents on the non-conference schedule.
Of the first 13 games this season, 10 of them are at the Comcast Center and two of them at neutral sites. The only true road game the Terps have seen was a win over Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.
Maryland lost by three points to Kentucky in its opener at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Then it took straight wins at home against Morehead State, LIU Brooklyn, Lafayette, and Georgia Southern. There were victories against Northwestern and later George Mason at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Continuing its feast against the unknowns of the Division I world, the Terrapins then saw Maryland Eastern Shore, South Carolina State, and Monmouth at the seats-empty Comcast Center.
Stony Brook was beaten last Friday and now Maryland has only Delaware State and Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis remaining before the beginning of the Atlantic Coast Conference season in January.
Maryland has lost only a three-point verdict to Kentucky. It has won 10 straight since that defeat.
Turgeon is not blowing any horns. He’s been as low-key as he was when he accepted the Maryland position.
Four of Turgeon’s starters are underclassmen. His best players have been 7-foot-1 sophomore Alex Len, a native of the Ukraine, and 6-foot-5 sophomore Dez Wells, a transfer from Xavier in Ohio.
The other Terrapin starters have been 6-foot-6 sophomore Nick Faust, 6-foot-8 senior James Padgett, and 6-foot-3 junior Pe’Shon Howard.
All of those players have started nine of the first 10 games.
The other five Terps with sometimes generous playing time in the first 10 games are 6-foot-1 freshman Seth Allen, 6-foot-9 freshman Shaquille Cleare, 6-foot-3 senior Logan Aronhalt, 6-foot-8 freshman Charles Mitchell, and 6-foot-8 freshman Jake Layman.
The schedule of nondescript teams won’t impress the NCAA tournament selection committee. Or even the NIT for that matter.
But Maryland has a team with several versatile players and with a 7-foot-1 athlete as its best chance to win ACC games, it will clear out and clean out teams like Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami, and Florida State when it sees them in the Comcast Center.
Turgeon would never say it, but one of his predecssors at Maryland would snort and stomp his foot and bellow “I can coach, baby!” when he heard derisive comments sent his way by the media. Lefty Driesell refused the shadows or the criticism. He was Turgeon’s opposite in that regard.
Yet, Turgeon can coach. Regardless of how soft and squishy his schedule is.