The last time the Maryland men's basketball team took the court without former guard Melo Trimble was March 13, 2014. The Terps had just capped a 17-15 season with a loss in the first round of the ACC tournament. Five players transferred away from the program that offseason.
With a historical program on the downfall and coach Mark Turgeon on the hot seat, Trimble entered College Park the following season, leading Maryland to three straight NCAA tournaments before declaring for the NBA Draft this offseason.
The Terps will start a new era without the star who's defined their recent success when they open their season against Stony Brook on Friday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, beginning their pursuit for their first NCAA tournament without Trimble since 2010.
"We may still be a young team, but we have a lot of guys that have played a lot of minutes already," guard Kevin Huerter said. "Many people know they are going to have increased roles and will have to step up. As a basketball player, you want that so we all have more confidence."
While Maryland's offense will look different after Trimble's departure, the return of three sophomores primed to take over might soften the blow.
Forward Justin Jackson, guard Anthony Cowan and Huerter averaged the most points per game after Trimble last season, aiding Trimble as the Terps exceeded preseason expectations to finish third in the Big Ten and make the NCAA tournament.
While Maryland played small lineups last year with Cowan and Trimble starting, Turgeon wants to better involve frontcourt players and adjust his lineups based on the Terps' opponent this season. Maryland's offense ran through pick-and-rolls with Trimble for much of last season, but Turgeon said more players will receive those opportunities.
Jackson averaged the second-most points and led the squad in rebounds per game last season. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound swingman participated in the NBA Draft combine in the spring, and multiple outlets project him to be a first-round pick in this summer's NBA Draft.
In bigger lineups, Jackson can slide to small forward instead of power forward, where he spent chunks of last season when other frontcourt players battled injuries. The Ontario native's most impressive performances last year came at small forward, as he capitalized on the freedom to shoot or attack the basket from the wing.
Huerter will also shift positions, moving from small forward to shooting guard. The 6-foot-7, 190-pound guard shot 37.1 percent from the 3-point line last year, and he's bulked up to play more physical after spending the summer with the U.S. U-19 World Cup team. Cowan will take over the offense after Trimble's departure — a transition the six-foot guard said was seamless after handling the majority of point guard duties last campaign.
The Terps went 30-8 in games decided by six or fewer points during Trimble's three years, with the Upper Marlboro native repeatedly hitting clutch shots. Maryland will likely rely on its sophomores to take on that responsibility this season.
"Last year, their heads were spinning," Turgeon said. "They're so much more comfortable with the process. They've all gotten better individually as players. It's just the comfort level and the understanding of what I want, the system and then they're a little bit bigger and stronger, too."
After center Michal Cekovsky fractured his ankle in February, the Terps lost four of their final six games, leading to first-round exits in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Maryland didn't have another offensive threat in the post and averaged the fourth-fewest rebounds per game in the Big Ten. Center Damonte Dodd and forward L.G. Gill departed the unit in the offseason.
Cekovsky is healthy to begin his senior year after averaging 7.6 points per game last campaign. In addition to Ivan Bender, freshman Bruno Fernando, whom Turgeon lauds for his work ethic and athleticism; Sean Obi, a Duke transfer who prides himself on rebounding and physicality; and redshirt freshmen Joshua Tomaic make up a deeper frontcourt.
"If we can improve rebounding this year, which I know we will," Obi said, "we will be in a better position to do great things."
Though Maryland lost a shooting threat when guard Jaylen Brantley transferred this offseason, it will rely on freshman Darryl Morsell, a physical and quick guard, for bench production. Guards Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley also figure to play roles as reserve shooters.
With Big Ten play beginning Dec. 1 — about three weeks earlier than usual because the conference tournament was moved up — Turgeon wants to solidify his rotation early on.
The Terps will need production up and down their roster without their leading scorer from the past three seasons.
"We're a close team," Cowan said. "I could see that from the beginning. We are competitive, and coach always tells us how versatile we are. This team is going to bring a lot to the table, and we will be fun to watch."