It was clear last year that Maryland had something special in its freshmen class.
It was easy to see that the spotlight was on junior guard Melo Trimble. After all, he led nearly every offensive category for the team last year. It also didn’t hurt that he was also a solid defender with 110 defensive rebounds and 36 steals.
But past the shine of Melo’s star power, past the superlatives and eye-popping statistics, there were freshmen Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, who weren’t far behind Melo in production — even surpassing it in some areas.
Now those freshmen are sophomores, and Jackson, Cowan and Huerter are ready for a larger leadership role on the team.
“We’re going to rely on them, but we relied on them quite a bit last year,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said at the Terps’ Media Day. “I think they’re much more prepared. I do think every one of them has gotten better.”
That statement manifested itself in the Terps’ exhibition game against Randolph-Macon Thursday night. Jackson, Cowan and Huerter combined for 37 points — nearly half of Maryland’s points in its 88-44 win over the Yellow Jackets — and shot 52 percent.
The three also made sure their teammates got in on the action, too, with three assists each.
“All of them are so much more comfortable,” Turgeon said after the game. “I think Kevin and Justin did a great job passing the ball. All three of them defended well. I think we will make giant strides by [the season opener on Nov. 10]. They look good and all three of them are really unselfish.”
Huerter said he believes he has learned a lot since coming to Maryland his freshman year.
“We started off [freshmen year] and won a lot of close games, so we figured out pretty quickly how competitive college basketball really is,” he said. “Toward the end of the year when we didn’t finish the year how we wanted to; we learned from that and hopefully don’t make the same mistakes.”
Leading the team is going to take more than scoring points for the three sophomores though, and it seems like they’re ready to take that roll.
For Jackson, working on his voice as a leader has been a focus in the offseason. On top of working on his ball handling and making plays for his team, Jackson said he and others on the team are pursuing a larger leadership role this season. One way to do that is showing this year’s freshman how to make it through a long college season.
“All we can do is tell our freshmen what we went through and help guide them in the right direction,” Jackson said.
Cowan said he learned a lot from Melo about being a leader last season.
“He showed me a lot of what to do on the court,” Cowan said. “I am trying to be vocal as well as leading by action. I’m working hard in practice and doing the extra stuff to show the guys I can be a leader.”
Jackson and Cowan might be trying to emerge as leaders, but Huerter has already achieved that goal to several of his teammates. According to Turgeon, leading comes naturally to the 6-foot-7 player from Clifton Park, New York.
“He’s the guy that gets it the most,” Turgeon said. “He does it without even knowing he’s doing it.”
Where others, like Cowan, are trying to lead by example, Huerter is more of a vocal leader. Jackson said people might not have noticed it much, but Huerter was a player who often spoke up last season.
“He’s very smart, and those are very good qualities in being a leader,” Jackson said of his teammate.
Huerter said being more of a leader comes with his expanded role on the team.
“It’s being expected to do a little more than I did last year,” he said. “So, for me, I’m just trying to become more vocal on the court and in practice.”
This year, in his role as a guard, Huerter has tried to be more aggressive getting to the basket and finishing over people. Turgeon told Huerter he wants him get to the free throw line more often.
But there are many areas, particularly the chemistry between the three players, that are still growing. That chemistry grew a little more between Jackson and Huerter against Randolph-Macon.
“Everything’s a process, everything takes time,” Jackson said after the game. “We’ve been pairing together for a year now and we’re together a lot and hang out on and off the court, so I just feel like every day, things build.”
With all three players building on their roles this season, the 2017-18 season looks to be another solid one for the group. Maryland has talent and leadership coming from several players, and Cowan thinks it’s going to make for an entertaining season.
“We’re a close team,” he said. “I could see that from the beginning. I think we are competitive and coach always tells us how versatile we are. This team is going to bring a lot to the table and we will be fun to watch.”
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