Shortly before the season began, Maryland men's basketball players sat down at computers, logged in with special passwords and began answering seven probing questions not only about basketball, but about themselves.
"From whom do you seek input and opinions before making personal decisions?" said one question.
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"Whom do you rely upon when your team needs unity and motivation?" said another.
The exercise, overseen by a consultant, might not be as important as practicing ball-screen defense or running breaks. But in an era in which college and professional teams increasingly try to gain advantages by retaining psychologists, biofeedback therapists or other experts, Maryland believes the players' responses can reveal important — if hidden — characteristics about the team.
"It's like taking an MRI of your team culture and your team chemistry," said Sasho Cirovski, Maryland's men's soccer coach. His players also answered the seven questions before their season, as did members of the Terps' wrestling and women's soccer teams.
The exercise was designed and supervised by Vancho Cirovski — Sasho's brother — an organizational development expert who is president of Peak Consulting of Windsor, Ontario.
The team members' responses are analyzed, charted and presented in the form of lengthy reports to the head coaches.
The idea is to help coaches identify and encourage potential team leaders, and to be able to reach out to players who might feel alienated or isolated.
"It helps me understand my team," said men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon, whose Terps (15-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) meet No. 1 Duke (16-2, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday in Durham, N.C. "There were some really good little things in [the report], like that one guy might be more disconnected than I think to the group." He declined to identify the player.
The 25-page report received by Turgeon showed generally that his team "was well-integrated. We didn't identify too many cliques," Vancho Cirovski said.
The team's top freshmen seemed to bond when they played together at the Capital Classic last summer. They clowned with one another when they weren't on the floor and yelled, "Go Terps!" when they saw a video camera.
"I think it happened right away in the summer," freshman guard Seth Allen said. "Team chemistry is something we had since we got here. As we begin to know each other, we're just getting closer and closer every day. They're just more and more like my brothers."
The report did identify a player that, according to Vancho Cirovski, "might be somewhat disconnected. This guy needs to be pulled in somehow."
All Cirovski would say about the player is that he is new to the team this season. Maryland has four transfers on the roster in addition to five freshmen.
Cirovski's reports can help coaches identify emerging leaders — players who may have little experience but naturally command teammates' respect. He said that Terps soccer star Patrick Mullins was identified as a potential leader well before last season, when he won the Hermann Trophy, given to the best male player in NCAA Division I soccer.
With few upperclassmen in prominent roles, Turgeon's team has had to find leaders from among the younger players. The coach has said that sophomore Dez Wells, a transfer from Xavier who is naturally outspoken, is often looked to by teammates for guidance.
Turgeon said the Terps became closer when they trained for a few days with a former Navy SEAL during the preseason.
Turgeon, who is in his fourth head coaching job, said nothing bonds a team like travelling together. Although Maryland has played 19 games, only three so far have been held in the opposing team's arena.
"Getting on the road really brings you together," Turgeon said.
He said Cirovski's report helped him learn how to accelerate that process of turning his players into a team. "Our team is really close," he said. "We're not faking it."
Notes: Maryland, which has lost five games in a row to Duke, hasn't won in Durham since 2007 and hasn't beaten a No. 1-ranked team since North Carolina in 2008. … The Terps will try to slow senior Mason Plumlee, who combined for 39 points and 22 rebounds in Duke's two victories over Maryland last season. … Duke is coming off a 27-point loss at Miami on Wednesday night.