After Maryland’s crushing loss to NC State on Jan. 20 in Raleigh, Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon had a phone conversation with the man he considers his mentor, Southern Methodist head coach Larry Brown.
So why would the coach of a power-conference school call the 73-year-old coach of a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1993? Because without the latter, the former likely wouldn't exist in the same capacity.
Brown, having coached Turgeon during his playing days at Kansas and kept him on his staff when the Jayhawks won a national title, went on to win an NBA title as a coach close to two decades later.
He surprised many when he even took the job at SMU and is now tasked with resurrecting a program that sits squarely in a hotbed of basketball talent that it has been unable to cultivate.
But following SMU’s win over No. 7 Cincinnati on Saturday night that pushed the Mustangs to 19-5 overall with three Top 25 wins, it’s the mentor is who rolling in 2014 while the mentee fights to get his team into the NCAA tournament.
The way both coaches have built their programs is not dissimilar. Brown’s top three scorers--Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy, and Nick Russell--are all transfers. For Turgeon, Dez Wells is the centerpiece of his team after transferring from Xavier while forward Evan Smotrycz came in from Michigan and is now one of the Terrapins’ better inside and outside scoring threats.
And then there’s recruiting. Both sit on talent hotbeds of which they’ve finally been able to reap the benefits. Top 50 guard Keith Frazier is working through his first season at SMU, while one of the nation’s best players in 2014, Emmanuel Mudiay, shocked the world this summer and chose the Mustangs over Kentucky.
Maryland has two of the area’s top players, Romelo Trimble and Dion Wiley, signed for the Class of 2014 after reeling in Top 40 guard Roddy Peters last season.
But the question that will follow Turgeon, particularly because of the expectations that are absent at SMU, will be winning. There’s a growing impatience as the window for securing an NCAA tournament berth continues to close more rapidly with each passing week.
This stretch coming up is where Turgeon could accomplish what Brown already has this season--beating ranked teams. With Virginia, Duke, and Syracuse comprising three of the next four games, a 2-1 record (plus a win over Wake Forest) would put Maryland at 17-11 and with two high-quality wins over ranked teams.
Will it happen? On the road for two of those, plus welcoming the nation’s number one team could easily mean 0-3 instead of the staying above water like they’d prefer.
Turgeon might have to take a page out of Brown’s playbook for this one.