One of the big questions surrounding Maryland men’s basketball focused on two key players from last season’s team in Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins.
Earlier in the offseason, both players announced their intention to enter the NBA Draft, while still maintaining their collegiate eligibility. In recent days, those questions were answered with Ayala opting to return to College Park, Md., for his senior season and Wiggins deciding to remain in the NBA Draft and forgo the remainder of his collegiate eligibility.
Wiggins announced his decision July 5, two days before the final July 7 deadline for NBA prospects to either keep their name in the draft or remove it.
Let’s take a deeper look at Wiggins’ decision and how it will affect Maryland’s roster entering next season.
The decision to leave
Throughout the course of the last several weeks, Wiggins garnered increased attention from NBA teams with his strong play. Invited to the G League Elite Camp, Wiggins’ impressive play there earned him an invite to the NBA Draft Combine.
He was one of just four prospects in the G League Elite Camp elevated to the combine. In the final scrimmage there, Wiggins posted an efficient 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting. At the combine, Wiggins posted the fastest shuttle run time of the guards and one of the fastest times in the three-quarter court sprint, according to nba.com.
As such, Wiggins has caught the eye of NBA teams. According to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Wiggins has completed private workouts with seven NBA teams so far. Additionally, Wiggins plans to participate in the Minnesota group workout later this week where all 30 teams will be in attendance.
Although Wiggins has gained increased notoriety in recent weeks, he was a key element of Maryland’s success last season. The Greensboro, N.C., native averaged 14.5 points and 5.8 assists last season. Both marks ranked second on the team.
Shooting 35.6 percent from behind the arc in 2020, he also showcased the ability to create for himself and set up his teammates in pick-and-roll situations. In his final game as a Terp against Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Wiggins scored a career-high 27 points, capping off a strong junior season.
What does it mean for Maryland?
Entering next season, Maryland’s personnel will look much different. While Wiggins is transitioning to the NBA, guard Darryl Morsell transferred to Marquette for his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Wiggins’ loss will be most impactful on the offensive end, while Morsell’s departure will affect Maryland on the defensive end. Morsell, named the 2020-21 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, was also one of the team’s biggest leaders.
However, those losses should be mitigated by Ayala’s return and the arrival of two impact transfers at positions of need. Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab both should be starters for the Terps next season.
Russell, a transfer from Rhode Island, figures to be Maryland’s starting point guard next season with Ayala more effective off the ball. Russell comes with a wealth of experience, having been Rhode Island’s leading scorer last season and a 2019-20 first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection.
Wahab, a transfer from Georgetown, delivers the much-needed size and rim protection in Maryland’s frontcourt that the Terps lacked severely last season. Anchoring the Big East champions down low, he averaged 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Beyond the impact transfers, Maryland welcomes back several important players from last season, including Ayala and juniors Hakim Hart and Donta Scott. Ayala and Russell present an imposing backcourt duo with sophomore Marcus Dockery able to provide depth off the bench. Scott has the potential to be a nice complement to Wahab with his ability to shoot the three and stretch opposing defenses.
Wiggins’ contributions on the wing will most likely fall on the shoulders of several players both experienced and inexperienced. Hart is the most experienced of the group, showing signs of growth last season. Sophomore Ian Martinez, a transfer from Utah, also could develop into a key part of Maryland’s guard and wing rotation.
However, Wiggins’ departure opens the door for younger players like Ike Cornish, the 6-foot-6 freshman out of Baltimore, to contribute. Two other freshmen — 6-foot-9 Julian Reese out of Baltimore and 6-foot-8 James Graham III out of Milwaukee — could see significant playing time as well.
Unlike last offseason, the Terps will have conventional offseason workouts, providing them with ample time to adjust to the new pieces and minimize the losses from last year’s team.
According to many pundits, Maryland is slated to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten Conference next season along with Michigan, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State.
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