Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cornerstones, Breaks And Chemistry

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

My wife wears me out for my alleged man crushes. She latches on to many suspects - Hunter S. Thompson, Keith Richards, Art Monk, Martin Luther King Jr., Batman, Abe Lincoln, Sam Calagione (Mr. Dogfish Head Brewery) and The Dude from The Big Lebowski – and produces an avalanche of comic relief…at my expense. Admittedly, it’s quite a list, an (apparently) irresistible cornucopia of material for her needler gene. 

Of course she often (and intentionally for the sake of laughter) mischaracterizes affinity for awkward infatuation. But I am guilty. I have man crushes, like my little thing for Gary Williams, former Maryland men’s basketball head coach and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Williams’s rebuild of the Maryland basketball program after Len Bias’s death and the NCAA sanctions in the late 1980s is legendary. Williams inherited a program in 1989 that was in the midst of a near death experience. Thirteen years later, Williams’s Terps won the 2002 National Championship. His signature now appropriately adorns the court at Xfinity Center on the Maryland campus. 

Man crush? Oh yeah, I love me some Gary Williams. But it was another Williams – Walt Williams – that Gary often credits with much of his success. Walt arrived at Maryland a year before Gary and by all accounts should have transferred. He was too talented to languish on a bad team and with a program banned from postseason play. But Walt stayed and became the cornerstone player for Gary’s great reclamation.

Current Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon found himself desperately seeking a program cornerstone last year. In three seasons at Maryland, Turgeon hadn’t produced a NCAA tournament team and several talented players had transferred. The program was flailing – again – and Turgeon was on the hot seat.

Then Melo Trimble arrived and changed everything. Trimble, a McDonald’s All-American point guard from Upper Marlboro, was sensational last season. He distributed the ball. He scored. He calmed. He inspired. After ripping off 28 wins, Melo and the Turtles gave a school and its coach their swag back. 

Turgeon was fortunate to get Trimble. Gary was lucky to keep Walt. Such is life. Getting a break is one thing; doing something extraordinary with it is special. Gary did (hence my crush). Turgeon might too.

Since Maryland’s season ended with a third-round NCAA Tournament loss to West Virginia, no school has improved more than the Terps. Turgeon, already with highly touted Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter inbound for 2015-16, used Trimble’s decision to return for his sophomore season to score Diamond Stone, a five-star recruit, and Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon. The additions have Maryland, a program that just made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, tucked well within the preseason top five.

What a difference a year makes. Turgeon was Robert Zimmerman last summer; he’s Bob Dylan (yes, another man crush) now. Turgeon’s no longer fighting for his job, but the recruiting success has created new concerns. The Terps will sneak up on no one next year and will face expectations Maryland hasn’t seen since Juan Dixon was playing at Cole Field House. But those are uncontrollable, external forces. Turgeon’s biggest challenge is internal: molding this massive collection of randomly assembled talent into a cohesive unit.

Maryland's pending chemistry experience will likely include three new starters (Stone, Sulaimon and Carter), a handful of players with designs on the 2016 NBA Draft and talented incumbents vying for playing time. Turgeon will have to compel this fabulous collection of 18 to 21-year-olds, many stars in their own right, to sacrifice and accept roles for the betterment of the whole. It’s a better problem to have – any manager in any facet of life would choose excessive talent over a talent deficiency - but Turgeon will be tested, as a master of basketball X’s and O’s and human behavior. I wish him luck. I can’t get my kids to collaborate on modest household chores.

With Maryland’s recent success and bright future, am I crushing on Turgeon? Not yet…but if the Turtles cut down the nets next April, suffice to say my wife will have some new material.

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