When Mark Turgeon was asked about his frontcourt Monday, Maryland's men's basketball coach inhaled deeply like a swimmer about to take an underwater plunge.
Five weeks after replacing the retired Gary Williams, Turgeon knows his young team has issues pronounced enough that he felt compelled to say more than once: "I didn't sign a one-year contract."
Turgeon, who signed an eight-year deal, has only nine scholarship players, four shy of the limit. His only senior, guard Sean Mosley — who struggled with his shot last season — is in a walking boot after seriously spraining his ankle in a pickup game with teammates. The man who figured to be Maryland's best player, Jordan Williams, left campus months ago and is positioning himself for the NBA draft.
But it was when the subject of the depleted frontcourt was raised that Turgeon sighed audibly. It is clear from his response that this is Maryland's most troubling problem, at least for next season.
"I've taken over programs where the personnel was not where it needed to be, but never at this level," the former Texas A&M, Wichita State and Jacksonville State coach said in an interview in his half-decorated Comcast Center office.
In a sense, Turgeon — the super-competitive former Kansas point guard — relishes the challenge of coaching an undersized team. Its biggest returning player — 6-foot-10 Berend Weijs — has limited experience and is on a 5,000-calories-per-day regimen to bulk up. "It's not working," Turgeon quipped Tuesday. "He needs about 20,000, I think. Poor kid, he'll probably gain weight when he's 30. But he's in there lifting, trying hard."
Turgeon's challenge is to try to minimize Maryland's size deficiencies by capitalizing on his smaller players' quickness.
"I'll be honest with you, I'm excited because I'm going to have to coach a different way," Turgeon said.
"I get to study basketball. There's a lot of guys that play four guards out there, which is what we're going to have to do a lot of the time. By having good guard play, you can spread the floor a little bit. You can create matchup problems," he said.
Turgeon's concerns about size relate specifically to defense. At Texas A&M, his teams were known for rugged defense. Last season's Aggies averaged just 68.3 points but finished 24-9 and made the NCAA tournament.
"Sometimes size helps you — especially around the rim — to get stops," Turgeon said. "That's my biggest concern, not so much what we can do offensively."
Turgeon is realistic about the coming season. He believes his recently assembled staff — Maryland holdover Bino Ranson, former Kansas State assistant Dalonte Hill and former Texas A&M assistant Scott Spinelli — will accumulate talented big men over time.
As for the short term, Turgeon said: "I'm not going to judge us on wins and losses next year. I'm going to judge us on what kinds of habits we create in practice, what kind of chemistry we build, how we're playing as a team, how recruiting goes."
That's not to say Turgeon isn't eagerly planning for next season. Among other tasks, he has reached out to those who know Mosley for strategies on how to unlock more of the senior's potential.
Mosley (St. Frances) shot 41.3 percent from the field last season and averaged 8.1 points after averaging 10.1 the season before. Midway through the season, he acknowledged he had been passing up good looks at the basket — a telltale sign that a player is overthinking on the court.
Mosley's ankle sprain is expected to keep him out of basketball for about a month.
"I'm going to put the ball in his hands," Turgeon said of Mosley. "I talked to his high school coach and people around him when he was younger. He's good with the ball in his hands. Maybe we'll make him a little bit more of a playmaker, that might help him get his confidence. Make it kind of his team, since he's going to be a senior," the coach said.