Baltimore Sun staffers Don Markus, Chris Korman and Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Will Nick Faust’s experience playing on an overseas tour recently help him develop his game for the Terps next season?
Don Markus: By the end of his freshman year in College Park, the former City star was one of Mark Turgeon’s most consistent and all-around players. Just as incoming freshman Jake Layman benefited from making the U-18 national team this summer, Faust certainly will be helped by his experience playing on a summer college all-star team that played three games in a tournament in Estonia last week.
While the team lost two of three games against Eastern European competition that included a few NBA players and draft picks, Faust had a couple of breakout performances. The team’s only victory, in double overtime against a team from the Republic of Georgia, was highlighted by Faust’s 35 points (plus seven rebounds and four assists), including a long 3-pointer in the waning seconds that pushed a two-point lead to five.
I think it’s important for Faust to get into the same scoring mentality that he had in high school, since he clearly will be Turgeon’s go-to guy early in the season as the six freshmen, including Layman and top recruit Shaquille Cleare, acclimate themselves to the college game. Faust was often the third or fourth option for the Terps last season when Terrell Stoglin was usually the first and second and sometimes even third option.
Guy Rancourt, who started taking the Eastern All-Stars overseas seven years ago, said that he didn’t need Faust to run the point with players such as Quinn Cook of Duke and Juwan Staten of West Virginia, but that he sometimes used Faust in isolation and pick-and-roll sets to let him create his own shot. Faust, at 19 points per game, was the team's second-leading scorer behind Cook, who averaged 22. Rancourt, a former Florida State assistant who is now the head coach at Division III Lycoming, said that most of Faust’s points came off pull-up midrange jumpers “off dribble penetration” or 3s.
“He didn’t get to the rim that much,” Rancourt said Thursday. “He had a little trouble adjusting to the physicality of the European game. A lot of the guys he played against were 6-7 and over 200 pounds. But there’s no doubt he has a lot of confidence in his abilities, not in a cocky way. He believes he’s going to score every time he shoots.”
Sounds like someone who is no longer in College Park, and not by his own choice. But just as Stoglin fought Turgeon nearly until the last few weeks of the season, Faust bought into everything the first-year Maryland coach was trying to get him to do. He went from being a mostly unsuccessful outside shooter early in the season to a steady scorer as a slasher. He went from playing admittedly no defense in high school to being Maryland’s best off-the-ball defender.
Rancourt said that Faust was very sound defensively, and was even used as an inside wing on the back end of a zone when the Eastern All-Stars went to a smaller, quicker lineup. From Rancourt’s description, it doesn’t appear that Faust has changed his less-than-textbook shooting mechanics, and fans in Estonia saw the same over-the-rainbow jumper that Faust displayed often at Comcast Center.
His game-winner against the Republic of Georgia, which included Brooklyn Nets signee Tornike Shenalia, was reminiscent of some of the long 3s he made last season.
“That ball was up there for a long time,” Rancourt said. “It was an impressive shot.”
Hopefully Faust will have a better – and healthier – sophomore year than the last Maryland player whom Rancourt took on his team. Pe’Shon Howard, who lost a majority of the season to a broken foot in preseason practice and then torn knee ligaments during a practice midway through, played on the Eastern All-Stars last summer. Rancourt said that he took former Terp Landon Milbourne overseas on one of the first tours.
“All those kids did a great job,” Rancourt said. “Nick was a real difference maker.”
Turgeon will need the same kind of performance from the 6-6 swingman next season
This recent Gary Parrish article seems to indicate Under Armour may be doing something untoward in an effort to lure players to Maryland. Should Terps fans be worried/a little bit ashamed?
Chris Korman: In case you missed it, Parrish, an esteemed national college basketball writer for CBS, did what most national college basketball writers do in the days following the July recruiting period and tried to assess the state of summer basketball and its relationship to recruiting. He concluded, quite rationally, that it’s pretty much the same cesspool that it has been for quite some time.
Parrish recites the usual litany of problems – agent scandal, summer craziness, unattractive excess –before reaching “heavy shoe-company influence.”
Heavy shoe-company influence?
It's damn near impossible to watch the best prospects compete against the best prospects anymore because almost every elite prospect is aligned with either Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. So the Nike kids play in one place while the Adidas kids play in another and the Under Armour kids play in another. This often plays a role in recruiting, too. For instance, one of the interesting recruiting battles over the coming months will be for the services of twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison, and most expect it to come down to Kentucky and Maryland.
Why Kentucky and Maryland?
Because Kentucky is Kentucky and John Calipari is John Calipari, and those two entities have a way of getting things done. And because Maryland is the alma mater of Kevin Plank, who is the CEO of Under Armour, which is the company that outfits Maryland's athletic department and this summer funded the Harrison twins, both of whom are consensus top-10 prospects.
"It's a legal way to help steer kids to Under Armour schools -- and it's genius, and it's not illegal," said college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb, who is in the process of moving from ESPN to CBS Sports. "It's just copying the Adidas and Nike [format] -- and you can go back to the Converse/Sonny Vaccaro days -- and taking kind of that next step with it."
Perhaps the thing that the average college basketball fan comprehends least is the deft, powerful hand that shoe companies have in shaping the sport. On its face, the notion seems absurd: Oh, you mean Five-star Jimmy got some free Nike shoes when he was 15 and picked his college based on that? Sure.
It’s more complicated than that, of course. Five-star Jimmy gets the idea of going to a Nike school implanted by the free shoes, and then his AAU coach, who is being funneled money by Nike (through summer league sponsorships) and certain schools (they get paid to speak at camps), cultivates the idea.
This has long been a wildly successful business strategy for the shoe companies. Elite athletes have a way of establishing what counts as “cool.” Getting your shoes on their feet is like dropping a match in a drought-dry field. The product spreads quickly.
Under Armour has a sort of up-from-the-boot-straps appeal. Founder Kevin Plank has carefully cultivated the narrative around his business, but the story has retained its charm: seeking shirts that dried more quickly, Plank, then a football player at Maryland, began experimenting with different fabrics. Now he’s worth a billion dollars.
In many ways, Under Armour’s spread is a triumph of quality. Athletes of a certain age – say, 30ish – saw UA stuff pop up 10 years ago, tried it and liked it. But one of the company’s big breaks came through incidental marketing: quarterback Jeff George showed up on the cover of USA Today wearing a UA shirt.
When Under Armour began its push into the lucrative basketball market a few years ago, near-guerilla, grass-roots campaigns were launched at select high schools. One of them happened to be in the town where I used to live. The Bloomington (IN) South Panthers had just won a state title in the country’s most basketball-mad state, had at least four future Division I players on the roster and, one day, showed up wearing hundreds of dollars worth of Under Armour gear. The school board eventually had to discuss the matter to make sure that the “sponsorship” fit within the rules.
Meanwhile, every kid aged 5 to 14 who ever dreamed of playing for the Panthers was demanding his or her parents purchase Under Armour gear. You’d walk into stores that were otherwise well-stocked with shirts from Nike and Adidas and Reebok, and there’d be only oddly sized and strangely colored Under Armour stuff left on the rack.
Sponsoring a summer league team is a different tactic, of course. These kids play, as Parrish noted, in far-flung tournaments across the country. They’re not seen in front of big crowds, or covered routinely by newspapers. But hard-core basketball fans closely follow recruiting, and every kid with thoughts of playing high-level basketball knows those hopes must run through summer play. So having an Under Armour team do well creates a real currency among the early adopters of the basketball culture.
Though I haven’t covered the summer circuit closely the past two summers, it doesn’t seem that Under Armour is doing anything to shuffle players to schools it sponsors. Yes, the Terps got Shaquille Cleare from the Houston Defenders AAU team, the same group that Under Armour now sponsors. And Cleare is a big reason that the Harrison twins are so strongly considering Maryland, even with defending national champion and NBA-factory Kentucky begging them to come to Lexington. But they’re also being influenced by their father, who played at Patterson High and still has family here. And then there’s the matter of Terps coach Mark Turgeon, who spotted the twins long ago when he was the coach of Texas A&M.
Yeah, Under Armour, has some role here. There’s no evidence that the company has done more than it should though.
There’s a saying in Baltimore, made popular by a show that depicted the rugged drug economy in our fair city. “It’s all in the game,” they’d say on The Wire, to explain the morally bankrupt world they inhabited. And that’s something real and raw and in no way comparable to big-time college basketball recruiting. That’s not the comparison I’m trying to make.
What I’m trying to say is: if Maryland’s trying to win national titles, and the Harrison twins are trying to become basketball stars, and Under Armour is trying to expand its brand and make more money … then all of this is part of the game.
As the Maryland football team gets set to open fall camp Monday with Media Day, which returning Terp is poised to make the most significant leap this season?
Matt Bracken: Kevin Dorsey has had a solid college career so far. The fifth-year senior was Maryland's leading wide receiver in 2011, and he's a preseason fourth-team All-ACC selection according to Phil Steele. But for a guy who came to College Park as the No. 154 recruit in the country, Dorsey's first three years have fallen a bit short of expectations.
That should change in 2012. Of all the veteran Terps back this season -- and there are many, including 10 of 11 starters on defense -- Dorsey is the best bet to go (as Kevin Anderson might say) from good to great.
Dorsey was often a lone bright spot for the Terps in an otherwise dismal 2011 season, catching 45 passes for 573 yards and three touchdowns. But an undisclosed injury forced him to miss two games of his junior season, and prevented him from living up to that pre-college hype.
Staying healthy will be the key for Dorsey in 2012. A notoriously hard worker who served as Forestville Military Academy's commandant as a senior, Dorsey might have pushed himself too hard in past offseasons. Going overboard with workouts could have contributed to additional wear and tear. The intensity of his approach was apparently dialed down a bit this offseason, and the Terps co-captain enters the fall as healthy as he's ever been.
Dorsey should also benefit from playing in an offense that suits his strengths better than any other system that he's been a part of in college. First-year offensive coordinator Mike Locksley's multiple offense features plenty of pro-style sets, which should allow Dorsey to stretch the field vertically more than he was able to in Gary Crowton's spread, read-option attack.
All of this, of course, depends on the effectiveness of C.J. Brown at quarterback. The redshirt junior still has much to prove as a passer. But Dorsey and Brown were clearly on the same page toward the end of 2011, perhaps most notably in the season-ending loss to N.C. State, in which Dorsey caught three passes for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Expect a continuation of performances like that this fall. As one source close to Maryland's program told me recently, Dorsey is one Terp that could "really explode" in 2012.
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