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Maryland junior guard Aaron Wiggins isn’t like his former teammate, Anthony Cowan Jr., when it comes to reading comments from the team’s critics. Sure, if he hears or reads something negative, it’ll stick in the back of his mind, but Wiggins doesn’t go out searching for slights.
This season’s Maryland men’s basketball team has enough motivation after what happened last year. Just days after clinching a share of the Big Ten regular season title for the first time in program history, the Big Ten canceled its tournament due to the pandemic. The NCAA tournament was canceled soon after.
Maryland players were left with the longing sense of, “What if?”
“For the guys who are returning, we truly feel like we missed something that we could have done last season,” Wiggins told reporters Tuesday. “So we’re coming back, we got a hunger in us, we got this fire in us that we want to get back in that same position that we were in last year when our season ended. And then with the new guys, they’ve come in with the mentality to work and the push and help make sure that we’re the best team possible. I think everybody’s just ready to go.”
Repeating last year won’t be an easy task for the Terps. They’ve lost their top two scorers from last season, Cowan and forward Jalen Smith, who are both preparing for the NBA Draft on Nov. 18. Smith, who led Maryland in rebounds and blocks per game, is projected to be selected in the middle of the first round or early in the second round. Cowan led the team in points and assists per game and left Maryland with the seventh most points in program history.
No Maryland player earned Big Ten preseason honors and the team is expected to finish near the bottom of the conference.
“That’s something that we’ll live with,” Wiggins said of the low expectations. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to prove ourselves and play with a chip on our shoulder, and we got the group to do it.”
Coach Mark Turgeon will likely turn to Wiggins, the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, junior Eric Ayala, and senior Darryl Morsell to fill void in the backcourt. It was Morsell who uttered the words “unfinished business” to reporters on Tuesday, and the young Terps team will look to the senior as a leader.
“A lot of our guys are gonna take some of his personalities, in terms of the competitiveness that he plays with on both ends, offense and defense,” Wiggins said. “I mean, off the court, he’s the funniest guy in the room a lot of times, but then on the court, he has this switch, where he’s the most competitive person … It will bring a lot of toughness and grit to our team.”
Maryland will also be helped with the addition of two three-star freshman, D.C. native Marcus Dockery and Aquan Smart. But perhaps the biggest unknown and potential for excitement is Chol Marial, a 7-foot-2 center who missed much of his freshman season last year due to injury.
Turgeon told reporters that Marial is “almost pain-free” and that he reminded him of the player he saw coming out of high school. Marial spent much of the offseason in Arizona, where he finished high school, rehabbing and getting ready for the season. He appeared in good spirits after the team’s practice on Tuesday and sounded eager to get the season started.
“I think right now … we’re really good,” he said. “But you cannot really tell until we play.”