Terps Basketball: The 2018-19 Season Nears; Closing In On The Nov. 6th Opener
I’m a fan of all sports and this is a fabulous time of year for that. The NBA has finally started and in the NHL the Caps are trying to defend the Stanley Cup. Further, the MLB playoffs are as compelling as ever and the NFL has had handful of all-timers in just the first six weeks of the season (thank you Mr. Brady and Mr. Rodgers). Even with all of that, nothing – and I mean NOTHING- has been as entertaining as the Adidas/wire fraud case that has been going on the past few weeks in New York. It has all the best parts of a great novel – black ops (albeit Adidas style), intimate relationships (mostly made up), illegal payments stuffed in magazines and “plausible deniability” used by the same power brokers (NCAA head coaches) who make underlings (assistant coaches) who do all of their dirty work for them and – eventually – pay the ultimate price.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Throw in a dash of Roy Williams (‘Golly, I can’t believe that any of this stuff is going on”) and a touch of Coach K (‘it’s just a blip’) and you can see why the public perception of the NCAA is so atrocious.
And let’s not forget the fact that it took the FBI (not that they have anything better to do) to actually bring some of these things to light. The FBI!!! These things had been going on forever right under the noses of the NCAA. You can pick a reason as to why it took the FBI to get us to this point and not the NCAA. Some are valid – i.e. the FBI enjoys subpoena power that the NCAA lacks or that the tax and interstate commerce elements of all of this make it more likely a criminal issue than an NCAA issue. I’ll grant you those. But, even with that, I think the public perception is that NCAA simply didn’t want to know about any of this stuff. It messes with the golden goose. March madness is what buys field hockey sticks and lacrosse helmets. God forbid there ever be an effort to stem the flow of so much corruptive cash into the game. I think pretty much everyone figured all of this was going on. We just never thought it would be so brazen and so over the top and involve so much cash. It’s almost comically unfathomable that Adidas was alleged to have paid a Kansas recruit $90,000….and the recruit never played a single game in the uniform.
But, for eons, for the NCAA it all amounted to ‘Nothing to see here’.
It smacks of hearing a noise in your engine and figuring the best way to deal with it is by turning the radio up. You just don’t want to know.
There absolutely is something to see here and we’ll see in the next twelve months or so where it goes. The testimony given during the trial implicated some schools specifically (Kansas – Ruh Roh), NC State, Miami – all of which are Adidas schools. And some schools were mentioned peripherally – Oregon, Arizona and Maryland to name a couple. Things went very poorly in the trial for Adidas schools – most notably Kansas. It could have gone worse for them had the judge actually allowed some of the wiretap recordings the prosecution had ready to play. At some point in time those things are likely to be heard.
Regarding the testimony in the trial that the recruitment of Sylvio De Sousa involved the need for Adidas and Kansas to help Sylvio’s handler get out of a $20k debt that the handler supposedly received from a Maryland booster I have to call BS. I may be whistling past the graveyard a la K and Roy on this one but the notion that someone – anyone – paid that kind of cash to a kid who never once indicated an interest in coming to school in College Park is almost inconceivable. While I’ve never handed over a bunch of $100s to an 18 year old or his guardian I would think that the only time I would ever do that is if I thought he were close to committing and had to be nudged to making that decision. The whole thing sounded more like a cash grab by the handler than it did anything else.
Further, I feel like I know the core of Terp boosters pretty well. If you told me that one of them paid $20K to a kid who had cancelled three visits and always had his sights set elsewhere I’d be completely shocked. Most of these guys made their money with sound business judgements and decisions. This one isn’t even close.
Just to close the loop a bit on the trial and what might come after it’s pretty easy to guess that the whole thing will end just the way it started – with assistant coaches playing the fall guy and doing the perp walk for Head Coaches that say they never knew about any of it. If I were an assistant coach like Kurtis Townsend of Kansas I’d be working on my LinkedIn profile.
On to the Terps and some expectations…
I had the chance to see this group practice prior to the trip to Italy this summer and then again three times over the past couple of weeks. The strides they have made since time have been really impressive. Some of it is clearly in part to the work that Kyle Tarp has done from a strength and conditioning perspective. Each one of the freshmen and sophomores look differently to me than they did just 3-4 months ago and that appears to have resulted in a palpable increase in confidence for each.
At the risk of jinxing anyone of these guys in particular…
I love Anthony Cowan playing off the ball – and it’s because of what he is and not because of what he is not. He has obviously worked hard on his game over the past few years and he has become an absolute knock-down shooter with impressive range. That range will allow him to get past any defender looking to contest a three pointer and make him even more dangerous attacking the paint. He’s become an even bigger weapon as a scorer this year. Cowan as your off guard also means that Eric Ayala gets more run at point guard. It remains to be seen how he’ll defend the position but Ayala is the best passer on the team. Period. It’s a nice luxury to have the option for either one as an option to play point.
The two biggest variables for this year’s teams are likely sophomores Darryl Morsell and Josh Tomiac.
Morsell was thrust into a situation last season that was probably beyond him. He’s shooting the ball much better this year from distance and will always be one of the more versatile players on the team. That will always help his case. Tomaic is in an interesting spot. He proved last year that he can help and contribute on both ends but with two dynamic players in front of him in the interior (Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith) and just enough competition from back-ups like Ivan Bender and small ball 4 men like Ricky Lindo and Morsell he may need to produce quickly when he’s inserted into games. This is a big year for both of them.
Smith and fellow freshman Aaron Wiggins would probably be the young Terps that are most likely to be rock stars with fans from their first games. Smith has Dwight Howard-like coat hanger shoulders and has put on 15 pounds of muscle since the summer. His game has few limits at this point. In his eight years as head coach Mark Turgeon has seen some pretty impressive freshman seasons out of Alex Len and Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone. Each of those guys all wish they had Smith’s talent. Playing alongside the man-child that is Bruno Fernando should lighten Smith’s load as well and allow him to roam- particularly on the offensive end and in transition. Wiggins seems to be the kind of unusual freshman that has both style and substance to his game. He scores easily and has the kind of size and anticipation that should make him a good defender in the Kevin Huerter style. He might start off games as a sixth man but I doubt he’ll ever be shorted on minutes.
Anybody who has ever played the game would be envious of the role that freshman Serrel Smith may have this season. We’ve ALL dreamt of a coach leaning over to you and telling you to get into the game and then saying ‘go out there and drop 20 for me’. That scoring ability alone might be enough to earn him some minutes and I’ve seen him light up practice a bit. That said, he is far more than a hired gun. He’s come miles as a defender in a few short months and seems to have an excellent work ethic. He’ll end up being a fabulous late addition. The last addition to the team this summer was freshman Lindo from Wilson High School in the district. I’m not entirely sure what position he plays (not that it’s relevant anymore) but he does have a really nice inherent savvy for the game. He might end up being a terrific small-ball 4 at some point. Either way this will be an interesting year for him.
At this writing we’re less than two weeks away from an exhibition game and less than six weeks away from entertaining the country’s preseason number 1 – Virginia- at Xfinity Center. There’s really only one good way to remove the taste of last year’s disappointment and that’s to move on, be better in all phases and get off to a fast start. Let’s gooooooooo!