The assumption for Maryland going into the 2012-13 basketball season was that one of the team's freshmen power forwards was going to take away many of James Padgett's minutes, and perhaps his starting job.
Though Padgett's minutes have decreased, the 6-8 senior is still starting for Maryland (1-1) going into Friday's game against Long Island University (0-2) at Comcast Center. Many of the minutes have gone to a freshman, but not the one most fans and maybe even second-year coach Mark Turgeon expected.
Turgeon credits Padgett's blue-collar work ethic — and his continued productivity — for allowing freshmen Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare to not have the pressure put on their broad shoulders right away.
"The thing about James is that he just wants Maryland to be good," Turgeon said Thursday."He knows these young kids are important for our development and where we want to to go this year as a team. So he's willing to sacrifice things that a lot of kids don't, especially their last year, and he handles it with class."
Padgett scored 10 points and pulled down five rebounds while playing 28 minutes in a season-opening 72-69 loss to then No. 3 Kentucky last Friday at the Barclays Center in his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. He played only 13 minutes in Monday's 67-45 rout of Morehead State, finishing with nine points and three rebounds.
"You always go out and play as hard as you can, whether it's five minutes, 20 minutes or 13 minutes," said Padgett, who averaged a little less than nine points and six rebounds in 23.6 minutes a game as a sophomore. "Whenever coach calls on you, you have to be ready. We've got great young guys and they compete every day, because if you don't compete you're going to lose your spot."
While Padgett has emerged as one of the leaders of what is one of the country's youngest teams, Mitchell has quickly taken that role among the freshmen. The 6-8, 260-pound forward from Marietta, Ga. — who has lost 23 pounds since coming to Maryland this summer — has proven to be as voracious a rebounder as he was once an eater.
Coming off the bench, Mitchell has as many rebounds (19) in 37 minutes as co-leader Alex Len — who starts — has in 56 minutes. It helped keep the Terps in the game against Kentucky despite woeful shooting and enabled them to pull away from Morehead State in Monday's home opener. It started before the season began and has continued.
Mitchell had 15 rebounds in 27 minutes of Maryland's exhibition win over Indiana (Pa.), then followed it up with 10 rebounds in 16 minutes against Kentucky, becoming the first Maryland freshman to have 10 rebounds in his first game since Buck Williams in 1978. Mitchell had nine rebounds in 21 minutes against Morehead State.
"I feel like I am going to do the things that can help my team win, and if that's rebounding, that's what I am going to do," Mitchell said.
Said Turgeon: "He just goes after it. He tries to rebound every time. He's got good feet [and] he doesn't accept blockouts. He's kind of got a nose for the ball."
Turgeon said that he thinks Maryland fans have only seen one facet of Mitchell's game.
"I don't think Charles is playing very well yet, to be quite honest with you," Turgeon said with his typical candor. "I think Charles is really good. I think he can really score, right and left, around the basket. He can defend a lot better, and he will have to [Friday] night. I know everyone's excited about Charles and I'm excited about his rebounding, but there's so much more from that kid than we're getting and I think you'll see it as the year goes along."
While Mitchell has made a pretty good first impression, Cleare's results have not been as positive.
But after struggling in the exhibition game and against Kentucky — failing to score against the Division II team in 15 minutes, then getting a fastbreak dunk but not getting a rebound in seven minutes against the defending national champions — Cleare had eight points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 18 minutes against Morehead State.
"It really boosted me. I'm trying to go up from there instead of back down," Cleare said Thursday. "I'm going to keep moving forward, keep working hard."
Turgeon attributed Cleare's slow start to a missed dunk and a loss of confidence in the exhibition carrying over to Kentucky. But Cleare seemed to be the kind of inside presence Monday the Terps will need.
"I think the encouraging part was the defensive end, not just the blocked shots," Turgeon said. "The post defense was good, awareness defensively was much better. Getting to the foul line helped, making some shots. It was good to see."