New Maryland coach Mark Turgeon sure looked comfortable with his ACC zip code, spending his first league media day last month joking with most everyone – from media members to North Carolina coach Roy Williams, his former boss.
"Ask him if I should start telling the real stories," Williams relayed to Turgeon through a reporter.
"No, no, no," Turgeon shouted back toward Williams' table.
This was not the look of a man making his first appearance at a major ACC event – a guy feeling the weight of constant peppering about how he'll replace legend Gary Williams, how he'll satisfy a proud and sometimes pesky fan base, how he'll resurrect a fallen power in a league with arguably the country's top two programs.
"It's not broke," Turgeon said of his program. "We have good players. We just only have eight of them."
Oh, yeah, there's that tiny pressure, too: Nearly half of Maryland's roster is walk-ons.
"How quickly can we turn it around in such a great league? It's tough," Turgeon admitted at the ACC event in Charlotte, N.C. "We'll see. With the staff around me and Maryland on your chest, hopefully in a short time we can be a top team in this league."
Turgeon, who left a comfortable existence at Texas A&M for this, has turned around programs previously. Maryland is betting $1.9 million annually over the next eight years that he'll do it again.
[March picksHuguenin: Projecting the NCAA field of 68]
Run down the list of NCAA champions from the past 15 seasons and none of those programs appear as far from being a contender as Maryland. The Terps finished 19-14 last season, failing to make either the NCAA or NIT for the first time since 1993.
Maryland lost three seniors, including leading scorer and rebounder Jordan Williams, and two of its incoming freshmen opted out after Gary Williams announced his retirement. Four of the top five scorers are gone, and the frontcourt likely will get devoured routinely in ACC play.
The Terps are picked to finish ninth in the ACC, and Rivals.com ranks them No. 108 of 345 Division I teams.
In short, this is not a good team.
Senior guard Sean Mosley is the only returnee with more than 15 career starts.
"Every minute," Mosley replied when asked how often he'll be on the court this season. "I'm happy to play 40 minutes [per game] this year."
And he's not kidding.
Mosley will play a large role in making Turgeon's debut a success – or not. He'll need to be more consistent because the guards must carry a Maryland squad with such a weak frontcourt. The good news: There is potential for the backcourt to be dangerous.
Point guard Terrell Stoglin is the top offensive weapon, coming off an ACC All-Freshman selection a year ago. Mosley and Pe'Shon Howard likely join Stoglin in the starting backcourt. And watch for incoming freshman guard Nick Faust, a Baltimore native who arrives amid considerable hype. He contemplated other options when Williams stepped down, but wound up sticking with his commitment and will see plenty of playing time as a true freshman.
"Tremendous defender. A scorer, great athlete, great rebounder," Turgeon said of Faust. "Only thing I've got to get Nick to do is not shoot it every time he touches the ball. If I can get him to pass the ball a couple times, his teammates will like him more and I'll like him more.
"No, that's a joke. He doesn't shoot every time he touches the ball. He shoots 90 percent of the time he touches the ball. He's used to that in high school. But I love him as a kid. What a great opportunity for him to come in as a freshman at Maryland and get a lot of minutes."
So far, Mosley said, Turgeon is making a favorable impression on the team – both for his teaching and volume level.
"He's very patient," Mosley said. "He's snappy sometimes after he tells you more than once. His patience is there, though. But you can tell he's got the other side to him, the discipline side that will come out. If you don't do this, you're running sprints. So a lot of guys buy into that.
"Having Coach Williams, he's a fiery guy. But Coach Turgeon is more laid-back until you make more than one or two mistakes."
[Weekly storylines: First week jitters]
Turgeon went to Kansas and began his coaching career at his alma mater, working as an assistant under Williams and Larry Brown. He was the first player in KU history to play in four NCAA tournaments (1984-87). After five seasons as an assistant at KU, he made two more stops – including one as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers – before landing his first head-coaching gig in 1998 at Jacksonville State.
Hey, where’s your name tag?
New Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is one of seven coaches in the ACC who will be in his first or second season on the job this season. Here’s a closer look:
Coach: Steve Donahue
Buzz: Hired in 2010, from Cornell
Coach: Brad Brownell
Buzz: Hired in 2010, from Wright State
Coach: Brian Gregory
Buzz: Hired in 2011, from Dayton
Coach: Mark Turgeon
Buzz: Hired in 2011, from Texas A&M
Coach: Jim Larranaga
Buzz: Hired in 2011, from George Mason
Coach: Mark Gottfried
Buzz: Hired in 2011; had been working for ESPN as analyst
Coach: Jeff Bzdelik
Buzz: Hired in 2010, from Colorado
"Jacksonville State, we were 308 out of 309 [Division I teams]," he said. "We finished 11 out of 12 in my first year [in the Trans-America Athletic Conference, which became the Atlantic Sun], and we finished two points out of first place in my second year. That level, you can make huge turns."
Next stop: Wichita State and the much more competitive Missouri Valley Conference.
"Wichita State, 285 out of 309 when I took the job," he said. "Wasn't a lot of great character around. Took a while. Different level. It took three years to make the postseason."
Turgeon took the Shockers to the NIT three times and the NCAA once, but that lone trip to the NCAA lasted all the way to the Sweet 16. Wichita State beat Seton Hall and Tennessee before falling to George Mason in 2006.
With another program revived, Turgeon's ticket to a major conference had been punched. It was just a matter of where. So when Billy Gillispie bolted Texas A&M for Kentucky, Turgeon slid into a Big 12 job.
"A&M was a great program," Turgeon said. "Billy left me a great team. We were a top-25 team. Won a lot of games. Expectations were tougher but winning was not."
All four seasons at A&M ended in the NCAA tournament, but Turgeon never was able to get the Aggies as far as he took Wichita State in '06. He didn't exceed expectations in College Station, but going 4-of-4 on NCAAs, he didn't disappoint A&M fans, either.
At least not until another rebuilding project came calling.
[Star peek: Xavier's Holloway hopes numbers add up]
Turgeon had passed on plenty of other opportunities during his days in College Station, but this one was different. This one came in an area loaded with high school talent and for a program that had hung an NCAA champion banner within the past decade.
So Turgeon assembled a staff with deep local ties, even luring high-profile and well-connected assistant Dalonte Hill from Kansas State. Turgeon talks about the strong relationship already in place with area AAU and high school coaches, and the Maryland fans.
Turgeon surely knows this one could be a final destination job, or one that derails a career.
"Maryland fans want to win," he said. "They accepted me from Day One. They don't want to go through a losing coach and then have to hire somebody else. They want me to be the guy. … Every now and then, you run into a dummy that goes, 'Oh boy, I'd hate being you.' And you're like, 'Really? Well, I love being me. What a great opportunity I have.'
"I want to be a legend. I want to be the next Gary at Maryland. That's why I chose Maryland."
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