Ask Maryland basketball strength coach Paul Ricci about the revamped Terrapins' roster and one word keeps popping up when he discusses the six newcomers.
As in a good one.
"That's the most important thing," Ricci said. "That's a compliment to recruiting, a compliment to the guys I work with that they're giving us guys who have really good attitudes. If you have a really good attitude, you can do anything you set your mind to. It may take somebody longer than another person. When I give a presentation to incoming recruits, one of the first slides is 'Your attitude and effort will determine your success.'"
And with that in mind, Maryland is trying to take full advantage of the team's youthful enthusiasm.
Ricci scheduled his dreaded 22s test for Friday morning, which happens to be a day earlier than Greivis Vasquez passed it last year. If Ricci is happy to pass along that tidbit to a reporter unsolicited, it's smart to assume he's making a big deal of it behind the scenes as well.
Coach Gary Williams, meanwhile, had T-shirts printed up that read "Win September" as a message to his players to work hard before practice begins Oct. 15.
"The thought being 'Let's try to be better than the other teams in the country this time of year and that sets up for October,'" Ricci said. "It's cliche but the guys have bought into it and I sure have. It's refreshing."
It helps that Ricci has had much of the team together throughout the summer. Freshmen Mychal Parker and Terrell Stoglin both participated in the STEP program and were less available, but there's still a significant head start to the season.
Plus, Ricci is entering his third season, and everyone in the program has spent the bulk of their careers --- if not all their time in College Park --- working in his system. Expectations, high as they might be, are well-understood. And the results --- solid late pushes the last two seasons --- are also well known.
"I can let guys police themselves and coach themselves," Ricci said. "They're not just counting reps, they're coaching reps. It's nice to see. Don't get me wrong, there's days I have to be a lunatic and when you talk to the guys on media day, you'll hear it, I'm sure. For the most part, it's been really good. It's probably not as exciting having all these guys doing what they're supposed to and being where they're supposed to be. But it's really encouraging from my standpoint."
The greatest curiosity about Ricci's program at the moment is how the freshmen are faring, and he was gracious enough to offer an update on each of Maryland's six newcomers.MYCHAL PARKER
"Mike has some unbelievable athletic ability and his body --- we do pre-screening for guys so you get a starting point, just like you measure body composition. These screens I do with the guys look at how they move and how easily their body moves. With a lot of guys, you have to talk to them. They fall all over the place until they get the skill and then they get a little confidence and they can do it. It may not be pretty. Some of the can do it and some of the guys can't. Mike did it like [that] --- boom, done. Stand on one foot, step over this thing, step back. Keep your hips square and your eyes straight ahead. All this stuff. Just like that. The mobility in his body is ridiculous. He has the wiring. When you look at the raw material for what I do, he could really be something.
'With him and Terrell, because they haven't had much exposure in the summertime, we haven't had a chance to develop a lot. Now, they're on the five-week 'Get ready for Gary' program and get ready for practice and be able to survive that and be healthy and get coached up that way."
"He has great ability to run the floor --- to run. We did a 5K on Sunday and he knew Greivis Vasquez had the best time for basketball at 21:10. Berend finished at 21:12, and that's really hauling for a guy who is 6-10 or 6-9. That shows a really good work ethic.
"He's very, very thin, but he has a great attitude and he plays with a little bit of attitude, and that makes up for a lack of strength in some cases. We'll see how he maintains during the season, but he's been great to work with. An unbelievable attitude --- Sean Mosley-esque."
"He's another guy who will do anything, just a coach's dream. His body type kind of reminds me of a Dave Neal. I don't want to say he's heavy-footed, because that has a slow connotation, but he's kind of got a stout body so he can do a lot of things with his body as far as setting screens that a lot of guys have a harder time with.
"From my standpoint, he's been unbelievable. Attitude's great. in a couple years, that attitude should really pay off. I think people will be really happy with what they see from this guy."
"His body is physically mature --- [like] a 27-year-old man. He's done everything to make it better and balance it out and refine it. He's got great raw material as far as tissue type and just overall development. He's very dedicated to doing the the little things. He's bought in from Day One of getting the ice baths and getting massages. and doing whatever he can do to make sure he can go out and practice and get better.
"My job is going to be from keeping him from plateauing because most guys are so untrained that you can do just about anything in a structured environment to get them better year after year whereas he's going to be more of a challenge. His strength numbers, he's one of the strongest basketball players I've ever seen in my life."
"He hasn't trained much at all before he got here. He's in the group with Mike Parker and Terrell and so things are more basic to try to get him better. He's a working in progress ... he's still dealing with [recovery from injuries], and from the surgery it takes a while to see if you're all the way back."
"He's just untapped, very raw. Whereas Pe'Shon has been weightlifting seriously for a long time, he hasn't based on what I've seen. The good news is he can really, really gain a lot because he hasn't done a lot.
"It's kind of like I'm unwrapping the present with him. Does it come with batteries, do I have to plug it? I don't know. I'm trying to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and see how things go that way."