While several Terrapins men’s basketball players took to the comfort of courtside chairs at about 9 a.m. Monday at Comcast Center, Dez Wells remained on his feet, walking around the gym and offering high-fives to teammates.
Perhaps the forward avoided sitting during the water break so his muscles would stay loose, or maybe he was embodying his newfound role as the team’s unquestioned leader. Whatever the reason, Wells didn’t intend to make use of those seats, and that was after he arrived in the gym at 6:45 a.m. to take extra shots before the 8 a.m. practice.
With five other returning rotation players and several promising newcomers matching Wells’ energy and commitment, coach Mark Turgeon believes his team is already “way ahead of the curve” three practices into the season.
The Terps’ tour to the Bahamas also helped, as they played three games and held nine practices over the summer, allowing the team’s three freshmen to learn from their veteran teammates.
“We’re pretty far along,” Turgeon said. “We’ve got a lot of things going for us. We got a lot of returning players.”
Turgeon also said the team is benefiting from the early practices, adding they keep the players more focused, give them free time in the afternoons and ensure they’re in bed at a reasonable hour. Plus, Turgeon can spend the afternoons recruiting and eat dinner with his family most nights because of the early practice time.
“I like it for a lot of reasons,” Turgeon said. “[The players] have gotten into a nice routine. The first few mornings, it was tough in early September. But they’ve gotten used to it, and they feel good about it.”
All the Terps on the roster practiced Monday, including center Shaquille Cleare, who dealt with a back injury for most of the summer. Turgeon said Cleare was cleared to play, and the sophomore from the Bahamas was a full participant in practice.
Despite being kept off the court this summer, Cleare’s physique didn’t appear to take a hit.
“I think Shaq was sneaking in and working out,” Turgeon said. “I don’t think Shaq is ever going to get out of shape.”
Turgeon said success from Cleare and forward Charles Mitchell would be key for the Terps this year. Those two big-bodied post players will likely battle for minutes, but aside from Cleare and Mitchell, the Terps have plenty of players that offer different talents.
Wells is a dynamic scorer, guard Nick Faust is a lanky lockdown defender and Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz is a 6-foot-8 forward with a potent shooting stroke. The team’s two point guards, Roddy Peters and Seth Allen, also provide unique skills.
Peters, a freshman who has earned praise from Turgeon, seems to have a natural feel for the game and appears suited to be a distributor, whereas Allen is more of a score-first guard. Turgeon said Monday he plans to play the underclassmen together at times, with Allen moving off the ball.
“We got some really unique pieces,” Turgeon said. “All of our players are quite a bit different, except for maybe Charles and Shaq. Everybody has something different and that’s good.”
Turgeon has plenty of options when deciding how to attack opponents, and he has more than a month before the Terps open the regular season against Connecticut at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Nov. 8.
So for now, he’s content with Wells and the rest of the Terps showing up to early-morning practice with energy, ready to stand up to face the challenge of an 8 a.m. workout.
“We’re just practicing so much harder than we did last year,” Turgeon said. “Just because we practice hard doesn’t mean we’re going to be great, but it gives you a better chance.”