Turgeon says this year’s Terps could be youngest team he’s coached

October 16, 2018 | WNST Staff

Mark Turgeon’s Media Day press conference transcript

Opening Statement:
“This is a great season for us. 100 seasons of Maryland basketball. We’ve gotten the chance to look at all the great things our program has done. I’ve said many times that I took this job because of Lefty Driesell — who we honored last night with the Midnight Mile — Gary Williams because of the National Championship and the great job he did with the program. We want to honor those things this year. It’s very important that we do that. We started last night, it was a great way to kick-off the season. We had over 500 students running the mile with us. We had some serious runners — one guy ran a 5:02. We had pizza and dancing. Our guys were really into it. It was a terrific night. I like my team. They’ve been fun to coach. It may be the youngest team I’ve coached. I haven’t looked back over the years but we’re talented. We’re three weeks in and we continue to grow and get better. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks. We have a private scrimmage this weekend and then an exhibition game where we’ll learn a lot about our team. Obviously we had a head start with Italy. That helped us a lot with such a young team. But it’s a fun team. We have a great schedule. A tremendous league schedule and we get to play in Baltimore. We get to get Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell home. We get to play Navy, which will be a great experience for everyone involved. We get to play at Madison Square Garden again and then in Chicago to end the year. We’re excited about the year. I’m really looking forward to coaching this team and it should be a lot of fun.”

On if his team has enough of a veteran presence:
“I think Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan have really come a long way. We were disappointed in last season. It didn’t go the way we wanted. Since that season has ended, we’ve done everything we can do to get back to the way we were the three years before that, which were terrific years. Our culture is back where it needs to be and we’ve worked really hard. All of our veteran guys have improved tremendously, not only on the floor but in their leadership skills and maturity. Anthony and Bruno will be a big part of that. Obviously Ivan Bender has been fighting through some injuries, but he’s been back practicing. He’ll be a big part of that leadership. Even a guy like Andrew Terrell. I know Andrew doesn’t play, but I’ve asked him to take over more of a leadership role. He’s in his fourth year and so I really feel good about our upperclassmen and what they’re doing. Our young guys are willing learners and listeners. They’re also very confident and good players. It’s a really nice mix. It’s a little young, but it’s a nice mix. I think those guys can do it, but we’ll see. We just want to stay healthy and continue to get better. But, each day and each week this team continues to get better.”

On where the young players on his team have improved the most since practice started:
“I look back to June when we started this summer and across the board — whether it’s Jalen Smith putting on 20 pounds of muscle, Serrel Smith becoming a better defender or Eric Ayala becoming a better defender and leader and understanding that he’s a really good player who belongs out there — I think we’ve done a lot of stuff on team building since last year. We got whipped by — we played a softball team and they whipped us, we played dodgeball and they whipped us. All club teams on campus. So we did a lot of team-building stuff. I think our culture is really good and I think our guys understand what it takes to win because they’ve listened. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we’re not talented. We have a talented group and I like the mix. I’m really proud of Anthony Cowan because by nature he’s a quiet kid. He had a great freshman and sophomore year — he’s going to put up incredible numbers. But what he’s done in preparing for Italy and starting this season…and how far he’s come as a leader and a passer and facilitator, as well as a dynamic scorer for us. A lot of positives.”

On if being surrounded by other talented freshmen will make it easier for Jalen Smith:
“I think you have to ask him that. I think he’s embraced the situation. For a McDonald’s All-American and a top-10 player, he’s very humble. I credit his mom and dad — he’s scared to death of his mom. He doesn’t make mistakes, but if he does he always says, ‘Don’t tell my mom.’ He’s been terrific. He’s great off the court. I don’t think he’ll be quiet for very long. I think once he puts up his first double-double, which could happen in the first night we’ll play, the national attention will come. He also has Bruno Fernando out there. He and Bruno have developed a nice little chemistry among them. I think they’re going to play well together. He’s just a humble kid that grew up in this state and loves the University of Maryland and Maryland Basketball. He’s really having fun with it which is good to see.”

On if he sensed at the beginning of last season that the culture wasn’t right:
“I don’t know if I said that [I liked my team] at this point last year, we’ll have to go back because I have a pretty good feel. I’m guessing I didn’t. I knew pretty early that even when we were healthy, we weren’t playing great last year. I knew pretty early. I did think over Christmas we got it right — I really do. We had some tremendous practices over Christmas. But then we had to shut Justin Jackson down and Ivan Bender got hurt the next game. I really thought we were going to figure it out. Whether we would have been an NCAA Tournament team, I don’t know. You can’t turn back the clock. At this time last year I didn’t feel as comfortable with that team as I do with this team, just to be perfectly honest with you.”

On how he’s progressed into Maryland basketball culture during his tenure:
“It hasn’t always gone the way I’ve wanted it to go, but we’ve stayed the course enough to continue to grind, work extremely hard and be positive. I think the 100th season has really helped me embrace it again, whether it’s Lefty Driesell or Gary Williams — I’ve spent a lot of time with Coach Williams this past year, more than I had in the past. I love Maryland basketball and I love what it’s about. I played in a program that had a lot of pride, so I think about it all the time and I’m always trying to do the best I can with the job. It’s been good and we’ve had some great years. We had the best start in school history, we had the most regular season wins, we’ve had a Sweet 16 team. We’ve also had to rebuild it a couple of times. But I really like where we are right now. We have great young players. We have one senior on scholarship and one junior on scholarship. Recruiting is going well for us. I like where our program is and I hope we can get to the goals I set when I came here. We’ve done a lot nice things but we all know what our ultimate goal is at Maryland and it should be that way every year. We continue to strive for that every day.”

On how talent from young players turns into on-court success:
“Sometimes young guys don’t know and they just go out and play. Let’s hope they continue to think that way. What’s going to be the challenge is when it does get tough — how are we going to handle it? We have some incredibly tough parts of our schedule throughout the year. How are we going to handle that? An injury or adversity or whatever. Hopefully we can stay healthy but that’s really going to be the key. These young guys are confident. I think when you guys interview our upperclassmen later today they’ll say the same thing about these young guys. We believe in them and they believe in us and so I think it will translate. Kids coming out of high school play at the highest level. Jalen Smith played in a great Catholic league, Aaron Wiggins traveled and played a national schedule on top of his schedule, Eric Ayala has played at national schools the last few years, Serrel Smith was a leading scorer in the state of Florida last year. There’s a lot of talent there and they’re very confident so I think it will translate for them just like it did with Melo Trimble, Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan, and Darryl Morsell. We had to put Darryl in a lot of tough situations last year just to get through the season, so I’m sure it’ll translate.”

On his expectations for Bruno Fernando:
“I don’t know if anyone has worked harder than Bruno. We’ve had a lot of guys work hard. And the most important thing is that my relationship with Bruno is great and much better than it was last season. What I mean by that is he trusted me through the process that he went through after the season and he let me work with him. During that time he was really getting better, so our relationship is terrific. There’s a lot of trust there between us. He’s worked really hard. I think you’ll see a player that plays smarter defensively. Hopefully he won’t forget who he is as a defender and a rebounder. He’s become much more skilled and a much better low block scorer. He’s learned how to get out of fifth gear. What I mean by that is Bruno’s a player who’s excited. So we’re trying to get him to the point where he knows to dial it down sometimes. He’s still emotional — he was probably the happiest kid at the Midnight Mile last night. Even more than the students. We couldn’t get the microphone out of his hands. But I’m really proud of what Bruno’s done and the improvements he’s made. He’ll be a huge part of our success this year.”

On how Darryl Morsell has progressed this off season:
“Nothing against Darryl but I thought Darryl would have been a great sixth or seventh man last year. He ended up playing 35 minutes at the four spot. He came in as a combo guard — a one, two or three kind of player. He didn’t mind, he just loved being on the court. I look at some of the lineups we had to put out there late in the year and it’s amazing we were as successful as we were and hung in there at times when we did. He’s back to his natural position. I think he’s going to be a lot more confident. I think Darryl made two three-pointers last year. He made four in a half in Italy so he’s really worked on his shot. He will play some four again for us this year but it won’t be his primary position. But he is more comfortable there. I think we had to ask him to do some things he wasn’t planning on doing, but he did what he had to do to try and get us through last season.”

On Anthony Cowan Jr.’s body language as a leader:
“That was a major [part] of the transformation, that’s one thing I didn’t talk about when I was bragging about Anthony. We’ve really talked about body language and we showed him some different things. We’ve talked about it a lot. A couple times this summer it came back when we were playing. That was what was great about this summer, I thought we really played well and Anthony didn’t play great for Anthony – what we expect. But he has changed. Will he have body language at times when he goes in, thinks he got fouled, didn’t get the call or whatever? I’m sure we’ll see it. But he’s a totally different kid and I think he likes the new Anthony…Practice is scripted, there’s no one in the stands, we’re not on the road. We’ll see. I think it’s a comfort level he has with his teammates too, and the respect that they have for him and he knows that. I think Bruno and Anthony are guys that are emotional – Bruno, body language – Anthony. Those two things had to change a lot and they have. I think you’ll see that when you guys can watch us.”

On Eric Ayala:
“I think we all have a have a lot of confidence in Eric. Eric’s a little bit older coming in, he’s like Melo [Trimble] – extra year of high school. So I think that helps. Our players love playing with Eric. Anthony’s really passing at a high level but Eric’s our best passer and thinks pass-first. I’ll say this about all our guys we signed – we knew we signed a good class but across the board, they’re all a little bit better than I thought. Eric is probably the leader of that pack. He’s been a real pleasant surprise for us. I thought I was signing a true combo guard, I think he’s more of a point guard than he is a combo guard. Allows us to be a little more versatile with the way we’re going to play.”

On comparing his time as a player at Kansas to the readiness of his players now:
“Well, you want me to brag? I actually started as a freshman, set an assist record, but that doesn’t matter. You’re right. They’re so much further along. The AAU ball, the national schedule these kids play… when I was a kid, there wasn’t third, fourth, fifth grade AAU ball. You weren’t traveling. The kids are doing it at this level at this age now, the really good ones are. They’re so ready. They’re so ready for it. And you see it across the board, across the country. Young guys step in and they’re ready to play. Unfortunately a lot of us have to have young teams. Guys go early or transfer or whatever but the kids are ready.”

On what his reaction was to the program being mentioned in the trial on college basketball:
“Some of the things that came out last week was the first time I’ve heard about it. I’ll just say that we’ve cooperated fully with the FBI investigation.”