Russell Mania: Terps go crazy for Fatts

The Terps put on an exhibition in their final warm-up against the Broncos of Fayetteville State yesterday winning 89 – 40. While Fayetteville is named after Americas favorite fighting Frenchman, they could not keep up with the revolutionary style of play of this new look Maryland team.

Nobody is arguing that the Broncos are a NCAA tournament team, but there was a lot of be excited about in College Park. Above all the excitement, was one of the newest Terps, Daron “Fatts” Russell who put the rest of the Big 10 on notice after his incredible two-way performance. “Russell might be as complete of a guy that I’ve had a while,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “He can do it on both ends. He’s really smart. He’s making the right passes, the right decisions…his speed is remarkable. Defensively, he’s always in the right spot.”

While the numbers will not jump off the page, Russell passed every eye test imaginable. His pace of play reminded the fans of former guard Anthony Cowan. His tenacity on defense could be seen jumping over much taller opponents to snag five rebounds. His lighting fast hands snagged two steals and showed why he was Rhode Islands all time steal leader. It seemed the Maryland team played faster and more efficient when he was on the floor. What is more important, was Eric Ayala seemed off tonight in comparison to the high standard he has created for himself.  Russell’s play took the pressure away with his incredible first night.

Eric Ayala is already projected to be a first team all Big 10 point guard and with the addition of Fatts, Maryland might have one of the top backcourts in the nation.

Other takeaways from the game.

Hart and Scott physical transformation: Donta Scott looked noticeably slimmer in comparison to last season. He has clearly put work in this offseason to make himself more NBA ready. Without the pressure of playing center this season, Scott looks to take full advantage of his role.

Scott was not the only player who looked noticeably different from last season.  Hakim Hart apparently has grown two inches. Last year, Hart was listed as 6’6 but this season is being measured closer to 6’8 and it showed. Hart’s defense in particular was put on display, as he seemed to disrupt pass after pass entering the paint. Hart was arguably the least impactful starter for Maryland last season. With his added size, another year of experience, and the pressure of incoming freshman I expect Hart to slowly become a fan favorite this season. He played more fluid than I remember and despite the great play from freshman Julian Reese, seems firmly cemented in the starting rotation.

Going Forward with Wahab, Reese, Cornish, and Wright: What a difference a year makes. Galin Smith, Jairus Hamilton, and Chol Marial were great on paper, but the difference was noticeable last night. Wahab is light years above any of last year’s players in the post and Julian Reese might be a NBA player in a few years.  Ike Cornish will provide much needed depth and Simon Wright provides a graduate transfer with enough experience to provide legitimate minutes for this team. Dare I even say, this might be strength for this team? The guards will get the attention, but these big men made an even bigger difference.

Ayala’s off night: 2 – 11 and  0 – 3 from distance is not an Eric Ayala night. The preseason first team Big 10 point guard did not bring his best against the Broncos. It is probably early to be concerned, but it should be on the radar as he adjusted to the style of play with running mate Fatts Russell. Ayala could still get to the rim and grabbed double-digit rebounds, but if Maryland wants to be special, they need Ayala to play better, particularly when shooting from distance.

Maryland opens their season on Tuesday, at 8:00 p.m. at Xfinity Center. Quinnipiac Bobcats. Baker Dunleavy’s clowder of cats will rely on Australian Jacob Rigoni who returns for an extra year after leading the team in scoring last season.

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