Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker, intern and Diamondback co-sports editor Josh Vitale, and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
Were you surprised that junior point guard Pe’Shon Howard plans to transfer?
Jeff Barker: No. It’s too bad it didn’t work out better for him – he’s a smart, sensitive guy. But it wasn’t surprising. The marriage between Maryland and “Hollywood P” wasn’t working this season.
How do we know? How about coach Mark Turgeon’s comments before the N.C. State game in January?
Turgeon said Howard, who had been the regular point guard, had been "pouting" and needed to better handle adversity.
"My message since the last game is, 'Quit feeling sorry for yourself because no one else is,' " Turgeon said at the time. Ouch.
By then, Howard had lost all confidence in his shot. He entered the Jan. 16 N.C. State game 0-for-13 from the floor in the previous three games.
There can be vicious cycles in basketball. You lose confidence and you begin pressing. You begin to think – rather than merely react – and lose the innate feel for when to attack and when to allow the game to come to you.
Howard is a creative passer in the open court. He can be a rugged defender, as he showed when he helped force Wake Forest star C.J. Harris into missing 11 of 16 shots on March 2.
But – after multiple injuries and jolts to his ego – he didn’t seem quite himself. He said his transfer decision was also affected by the desire to be nearer his ailing grandmother in California.
If Howard had remained, he would have been relegated to playing behind Seth Allen and Roddy Peters. Better to move on.
There will be a couple things to watch for tonight when the Maryland football team takes the field for the annual Red-White spring game, but most of it won’t be on offense.
Josh Vitale: Sure, the Terps finally have an exciting group of playmakers to watch—running back Brandon Ross, and wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, just to name a few—but anything the offense shows tonight will offer a mostly incomplete picture.
With expected starter C.J. Brown still not ready for full-contact drills as he rehabs a torn ACL suffered in August, and backup quarterbacks Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe even farther behind in their recovery from the same injury, the Terps’ only healthy signal callers are two guys who likely won’t play much next season.
New Mexico transfer Ricardo Young has taken most of the snaps during the spring, but he’s unproven, and coach Randy Edsall said he’s struggled with inconsistency. Dustin Dailey—who transferred from Division III Lewis and Clark College—is the backup, but he’ll likely begin next season buried deep on the depth chart.
So without a clear picture of how the offense might actually look next season, the most interesting battles to watch will come on the defensive side of the ball. The Terps graduated more than half of last year’s defensive starters—including defensive linemen Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, linebackers Kenneth Tate, Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford, and safety Eric Franklin—leaving them with plenty of holes to fill.
With that much turnover, there should be plenty of players to keep an eye on tonight.
Sophomore Quinton Jefferson has had a strong spring, and he’s one of the guys competing for a starting defensive end job. At linebacker, Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil has impressed enough to possibly get more snaps at outside linebacker, and linebacker-turned-quarterback-turned-linebacker Shawn Petty could work his way onto the field at inside linebacker.
The Terps’ starters at cornerback are already set with Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson returning, but there’s still room for movement at safety. Sophomores Anthony Nixon and Sean Davis are the favorites to start now that Matt Robinson is moving to linebacker (he’s still sidelined due to injury), but A.J. Hendy could have a shot to overtake one of them.
So while the quarterback-less offense won’t be an accurate reflection of things to come, tonight’s game could go a long way toward deciding some position battles on defense.
Could Sam Cassell Jr. still end up at Maryland after he finishes junior college?
Matt Bracken: In the months after Cassell felt the NCAA’s wrath and was forced to delay his Division I career for two years of junior college, Maryland signed Suitland point guard Roddy Peters and landed a commitment from Bishop O’Connell combo guard Melo Trimble. The Terps also continue to recruit several 2014 guards, including Potomac’s Dion Wiley and Mount St. Joseph’s Phil Booth. So where does that leave Cassell?
For now, the former St. Frances combo guard and West Baltimore native is biding his time at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. I spoke to the former Terps signee and his coach earlier this week about his freshman year. Cassell redshirted this year, which means he can complete his associate’s degree by next spring and have three years of Division I eligibility remaining.
Even though he didn’t play this year, colleges have definitely not forgotten about what Cassell accomplished in prep school. For most JUCO players, recruiting doesn’t really start until late summer of their sophomore year at the earliest. Cassell hasn’t really begun to focus on recruiting at all, but his coach has certainly received inquiries from a variety of schools.
“I wouldn’t really feel comfortable putting out a list,” said Chipola coach Patrick Blake. “He has a lot of schools very interested, though. High-major, most definitely.”
Where Cassell ultimately ends up depends largely on his redshirt freshman season. He’ll have a pair of talented backcourt teammates in Torian Graham and Carlos Morris, but Blake says the former Terps pledge will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills.
“I think the biggest thing [for him] will just be the adjustment of running a college team. Not only being the main scorer, but also being a great facilitator,” Blake said. “He shows that potential to continue to improve on that and be a great leader for us.”
Even though Cassell’s not focusing on recruiting, you get the sense that Maryland is still on his mind. He attended some Terps games this year, and made at least one post-game locker room appearance. It’s clear that during Cassell’s time in College Park last summer – before the NCAA ruled him ineligible – he bonded with several teammates.
“I still talk to them a lot,” Cassell said. “I still talk to a lot of guys on a daily basis. Just like Nick [Faust], Pe’Shon [Howard], Seth [Allen], the other guys. … They’re just telling me to do my thing. Just stay focused, stay on my grind.”
If Maryland decides to pursue Cassell again, I believe that he’d happily listen to what the coaches had to say. He grew up rooting for the Terps, enjoyed his brief time on campus, and wishes he were in College Park right now. But he will absolutely listen to other suitors and find the best situation for him.
Whether or not Maryland decides to go after Cassell again depends on a number of factors. Can Peters living up to his lofty ranking and be the lead guard Maryland so desperately needed this season? Will Seth Allen progress as a point guard or find his niche as a volume scorer off the ball? What role with Trimble play? Will Maryland land Wiley or Booth?
Lots of questions must be answered before this recruitment can progress, but as of right now, it appears that both parties have left the door open a crack.
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