InsideMDSports: A class of Turgeon's own
Editor's note: Each week, InsideMdSports.com provides this blog with a Maryland recruiting feature that previously appeared as premium content on its site.
When he was hired in May to succeed Gary Williams, Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon’s first priority was to upgrade the level of talent in the program. He put together a crew of assistants known for their recruiting prowess and he hit the recruiting trail hard, bouncing from one AAU event to the next, eventually securing his No. 1 prospects at three different positions.
All three recruits – Houston big man Shaquille Cleare, Massachusetts forward Jake Layman and Virginia combo guard Seth Allen -- faxed Maryland their signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA's early signing period. Thus, on the six-month anniversary of his hiring at Maryland, Turgeon was able to speak publicly about them for the first time.
“We’re really excited about the three guys we signed,” said Turgeon, whose class ranks 16th-best in the nation according to 247Sports.
“It’s huge. Players help you win games. It’s obvious. Our best teams [at Texas A&M] were when we had our best players.”
In Cleare, the Terps scored a 6-foot-8, 270-pound anchor, a potentially dominant rebounder and the sort of physical presence the program has often lacked in recent years. A native of the Bahamas ranked the No. 31 player in the Class of 2012, Cleare will play significant minutes at center next winter. Assistant coach Bino Ranson was the point man in Maryland’s recruitment of Cleare, getting the Terps to the top of his list under Williams and helping Turgeon gain a verbal commitment in late August.
“Shaq will give us a big, physical presence in the paint. He will be a great defender and low-post scorer for us, and for his size, he is a very explosive athlete. He is a great young man who really wanted to be at Maryland,” Turgeon said.
Layman is the No. 68 player in the country according to 247sports, while some other services have him ranked as a top-50 recruit. At 6-foot-8, he’s versatile enough to play anywhere between the shooting guard and power forward spots, though it seems likely he’ll spend most of his time at small forward. An excellent shooter and defender, Layman is a late-bloomer who exploded this summer, becoming a top target for programs like Syracuse, Louisville and Florida.
Assistant coach Scott Spinelli was the primary recruiter for Layman, who committed after an official visit in early September.
“I always liked Jake since the first time I saw him in the summer [of 2010], his height and his skillset,” Turgeon said. “Jake is a very skilled and explosive athlete who is improving at a big-time rate. Jake has all three phases in his game with the ability to knock down the 3, shoot the mid-range, plus get all the way to the basket. He is also a tremendous defender with great anticipation. Jake comes from a great family, and we are excited about welcoming into our basketball family.”
Allen won’t come to Maryland with the acclaim of his current classmates, largely because he was hobbled for most of the summer with an ankle injury, missing several events and sometimes playing through the injury. But the 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard, who averaged more than 24 points per game as a junior at Fredericksburg Christian (Va.), is an explosive athlete with a pure stroke from 3-point range.
Allen and Turgeon shared strong mutual interest when the latter was at Texas A&M. So when Turgeon was hired at Maryland, Allen committed almost immediately, choosing the Terps over Virginia and others. He’ll play both guard spots at Maryland.
“He’s just a basketball player. He wants to be a point guard and he’s good with the ball in his hands. Being a former point guard, hopefully I can help him. But he can also play the two, so he gives us some leeway,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon had been recruiting all three players at Texas A&M. Cleare had listed Maryland first and A&M second prior to Turgeon’s move, while both Layman and Allen said they liked the Aggies but didn’t want to go that far from home. Still, Turgeon said he hasn’t noticed a significant decrease in the difficulty of luring players to College Park as compared to football-crazed College Station.
“It’s hard everywhere. Recruiting is hard. You’ve really got to work at it and you’ve got to be lucky. For us to get [to Maryland] in May, this is pretty good. Selfishly, we’d like to add another piece or two,” he said.
“Recruiting’s never easy. You could win four straight national championships, and recruiting still wouldn’t be easy.”
Aside from their respective high school credentials, Maryland’s three signees represent an influx of size. Maryland’s recent recruiting classes often lacked size, especially in the frontcourt, and the team struggled to rebound against opponents in the size-packed Atlantic Coast Conference. With this class, along with the addition of freshman 7-footer Alex Len, the Terps are on their way back toward being able to match-up size-wise in the physically challenging Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We were looking for length and we still are. I think to compete at the highest level, you’ve got to have good players, but you’ve also got to have size,” he said.
Turgeon also noted that all three signees are quality young men from good families. The class could add stability to a program that's been hit hard by attrition in recent years; between 2007 and 2010, seven signees -- Braxton Dupree, Shane Walker, Steve Goins, Gus Gilchrist, Jin Soo Kim, Haukur Palsson and Jordan Williams -- have exited College Park early for various reasons.
Turgeon’s not done yet. As expected, he hopes to sign five players in this class; he wants to sign another guard and a power forward in the spring cycle. He said there were a few players he anticipated signing, including one who went elsewhere – likely Texas guard Christian Sanders (Stanford) – and a few who remain in play, some of whom may be in a holding pattern because of academics.
“We’re still plugging away on a lot of situations,” Turgeon said.
Maryland swung for the fences this summer, targeting several prized national blue-chippers. But power forward Mitch McGary chose Michigan, Georgia big man Robert Carter decided he’d like to stay close to home and Philadelphia forward Amile Jefferson faded after Layman’s commitment. And high-flying North Carolina wing guard Torian Graham is no longer listing Maryland; a source close to Graham told Inside Maryland Sports that the Maryland’s staff opted to stop pursuing him.
It’s likely that several new targets will emerge soon with the season tipping off. The Terps continue to recruit Georgia power forward Charles Mitchell and Baltimore guard Sam Cassell Jr., who’s prepping this year Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass. Mitchell hasn’t begun to take official visits while he works to shore his academics, while Cassell – the son of former NBA star Sam Cassell -- lists Maryland as his top choice but won’t sign until the spring.
Turgeon again said Wednesday he won’t add players just for the sake of adding players. It’s conceivable the staff could bring in just one more player and hold an extra scholarship for the 2013 class, in which Maryland will likely be targeting point guards to succeed Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin. Gonzaga (D.C.) point guard Nate Britt and Houston twins Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison are believed to be the staff’s top priorities in the junior class. All three fall inside of the top-15 in 247Sports’ 2013 rankings.
Britt’s recruitment could come down to a Maryland-North Carolina tussle, and he’ll likely make a decision before the end of his junior year. The Harrison twins are a top priority for Kentucky, while Villanova, UCLA and Baylor may be wildcards.
Maryland remains a legitimate contender as well; Ranson and Turgeon have built strong relationships with the 6-foot-4 duo and their father. They're also friends and summer teammates of Cleare, though that relationship seems unlikely to seal the deal.