COLLEGE PARK -- For as talented as this Maryland team was to begin the season, Mark Turgeon still felt like he was behind.
Transfer Rasheed Sulaimon joined the team late as he finished up coursework at Duke before coming to College Park. Sophomore Melo Trimble and five-star freshman Diamond Stone both had varying involvement in Team USA, delaying their arrivals.
So here was this team with perhaps the best on-paper starting five in the country, feeling like it was starting 10 yards back from everyone else. Months later, the non-conference schedule is complete and the Terrapins are 11-1. Their only loss? A nothing-to-be-ashamed-of, hard-fought road loss to North Carolina.
But Turgeon sticks to his preseason mantra, even after Sunday’s 87-67 victory over Marshall to close out the non-conference schedule.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we’ll be a work in progress until the end of the season whenever that is,” he told the media. “We’ll be a work in progress the whole year.”
There is no denying, though, the progress that has been made up to this point.
Begin with the backcourt. To start the year, Trimble and Sulaimon were two talented players whose internal basketball clocks had not been synced. Then, Sulaimon says, something might have happened on the floor in Chapel Hill.
As they were in that bout against the Tar Heels, Trimble filled the gaps left by Sulaimon and vice versa. Now, they are elite complementary pieces.
Stone has taken a major leap forward since being shifted to a sixth man role. Over the past five games, he is averaging 14.2 points per game and gives the Terrapins a boost off the bench.
“I’ve gotten more aggressive,” Stone has said of his progress.
“Now, I’m more aggressive and day by day in practice I’m getting more and more aggressive so I think I just need to keep that up.”
The question now is the next step.
Where does Jake Layman fit into the puzzle if he is not scoring? Defense and rebounding might be the answer. Is Jaylen Brantley ready to take on major minutes in the backcourt off the bench? His last two games are a positive sign.
Now on to the second act of the season.