Mark Turgeon may not have been the top choice to succeed Gary Williams but he is silencing all the doubters.
When Gary Williams decided to walk away from the place he called home for 22 years, there was quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding the Maryland men’s basketball program.
Replacing an icon like Williams wasn’t going to be an easy task. Since capturing the NCAA National Championship in 2002, Maryland fell from grace and wasn’t the nationally recognized program that it once was. Athletic director Kevin Anderson and company couldn’t just find anybody to replace the longtime Terrapins head coach.
There were several names that Maryland was interested in, but not all of them were realistic. Coaches like Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and Butler’s Brad Stevens declined to interview for the position. Arizona’s Sean Miller was a very well-established head coach and was reportedly about to take the job, but ended up deciding to stay at Arizona at the last minute. This was looked at as somewhat of a letdown at the time. Miller had a large degree of success in Tucson and could propel the Terps to a level of national prominence that they hadn’t seen since their national title run.
Maryland then set their sights on Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. Turgeon disciple of former Kansas head coach Larry Brown and even got his coaching career started in Lawrence. After stops at Jacksonville State and Wichita State, the Kansas native was named the Aggies head coach in April of 2007 after Billy Gillispie left to take the Kentucky job. Over his next four years in College Station, Turgeon led Texas A&M to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including three second round berths. He posted a 97-40 (.708) record while at the school and was blossoming into one of the most heralded up-and-coming coaches in college basketball.
The job at Maryland didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts as a trio of Gary Williams recruits re-opened their commitments. Baltimore City College guard Nick Faust, Seton Hall Prep (NJ) guard Sterling Gibbs, and St. Johns Military Academy (WI) forward Martin Breunig weren’t thrilled with the Terps hiring a new coach and had to weigh their options. After a short period of time, Turgeon was able to convince Faust to bring his talents to College Park. However, Gibbs and Breunig ended up heading to Texas and Washington respectfully. Both have since transferred from those schools.
Turgeon’s first season with Maryland was a struggle at times. The Terps didn’t have an abundance of scholarship players and were a young team for the most part. The team was highlighted by guards Terrell Stoglin, Faust, and relatively unknown Ukrainian big man Alex Len. Stoglin was clearly the star of the team and butted heads with Turgeon on quite a few occasions. It was a rough go-round for Turgeon in his first season as the Terps finished with a 17-15 record.
Turgeon may not have had a tremendous amount of success on the court early on in his tenure, but really has made his mark on the recruiting trail. Recruiting wasn’t exactly Gary Williams’ strong suit during the late part of his tenure in College Park. Williams allowed local talent such as Deron Williams and Rudy Gay make their way out-of-town due to Gary’s reluctance to play the recruiting game.
As was mentioned earlier, Turgeon jumped right into the recruiting ring and had to convince Faust to honor his commitment and play for his hometown school. Obviously we all know how that ended up as Faust is about to begin his junior season with the Terps. With the lack of scholarship players, the Kansas native had a lot of work to do in terms of bringing talent to College Park.
Only a mere days after being named the head coach, Turgeon landed his first commitment in Fredericksburg Christian School combo guard Seth Allen. Turgeon had pursued Allen while at Texas A&M so the recruitment made sense for both sides. The Woodbridge, Va. native wasn’t a heavily recruited prospect and one that many didn’t know a ton about. Obviously after one season in College Park, we all saw how dynamic a player Allen can be.
Allen got the ball rolling and recruits around the country could feel comfortable about what Turgeon was trying to build with Allen and Faust on board. As a starting point in his early time in College Park, Turgeon seemed to capitalize on kids that he had previously recruited while in College Station. Center Shaquille Cleare went to the nearby Village School in Houston and had a previous relationship with Turgeon. Turgeon used that to his advantage and ended up landing the Houston Defenders big man in late August of 2011.
After landing Cleare and Allen, Maryland’s 2012 recruiting class had some supreme talent thus far. Obviously early on, Turgeon hadn’t quite established a local pipeline and would take commitments wherever he could get them. Massachusetts wing Jake Layman was a player that seemed to come out of nowhere and land on Maryland’s radar. Layman actually ended up on a visit to College Park on the opening weekend of the 2011 college football season. The day after the Terps knocked off ACC powerhouse Miami (one of the few bright spots that year), Layman announced his intentions to play for Maryland. It was a huge get to nab a top 60 prospect like Layman and filled a huge need on the wing for Turgeon’s squad.
Due to the low number of scholarship players on Maryland’s roster at that time, the Terps had a few more open spots on their roster. In a move that came out of left field, Turgeon and his coaching staff scored a commitment from top 100 power forward Charles Mitchell out of the Atlanta area. Mitchell had offers from Cincinnati, Florida State, Georgia, Memphis, and Tennessee but chose to come to College Park. The Marietta, Ga. native played big minutes during his freshman campaign and could start with big men Alex Len and James Padgett no longer with the program. In addition to Mitchell, Turgeon secured commitments from Notre Dame Prep guard Sam Cassell Jr. and little-known Eastern Shore big man Damonte Dodd. Neither ended up being part of the 2012 class as Cassell Jr. was ruled ineligible and Dodd reclassified to 2013 to attend a year of prep school at Massanutten Military Academy.
To read part two of this post, click here.