When Gary Williams announced his retirement last summer, the race was on to protect a strong recruiting class he put together for the 2011-2012 Maryland basketball season. The jewel of that class was Baltimore guard Nick Faust, a rangy 6'5" dynamo that can get to the rim and show his athleticism.
Faust, rated as a four-star prospect by many recruiting services, maintained his commitment to Maryland while the other Williams' recruits asked for releases when new coach Mark Turgeon took over. Upon taking the job, Turgeon and his staff made retaining Faust their highest priority.
Faust's freshmen season was highly anticipated, but it started slowly. Forced into an uncomfortable position at point guard, Faust showed little of his breakaway speed or explosiveness, instead shooting too many long-range three pointers. Coming into the season, Faust was known as a streaky shooter, but a hot streak still awaited the young player.
But in Sunday's 61-50 victory over Georgia Tech, Faust showed the first real brilliant flashes of the player he can be at Maryland. Perhaps feeling less pressure with Pe'Shon Howard returning from injury and no more point guard duties, Faust played disruptive defense, leading Maryland with three steals. The steals turned into Terps points, including two highlight reel dunks for Faust.
"I was pretty hard on Nick during films after the last game and he played exactly the way he needs to play right now," Turgeon said after the game. "He needs to make plays defensively and get steals for us, as well as help us build our lead and really concentrate on guarding and rebounding."
"He did a great job, both defensively and offensively, being aggressive," senior guard Sean Mosley said.
Mosley led the Terps with 18 points in the victory over the Yellow Jackets, but he understood the importance of the increased presence Faust made on the defensive end.
"He got to the boards and had some steals," Mosley said. "He got the fans into the game and us into the game through his dunks. He helped us out a lot today."
The key to Faust's emergence in the Georgia Tech win was that he filled up the stat sheet. He finished the game with eight points, two rebounds and an assist to go along with his three steals. He is still a young player, and it showed with two turnovers, but perhaps the most important statistic was that Faust shot over 50 percent from the field with no three-point attempts.
For weeks, critics have groaned as Faust attempted multiple three-point shots a game. Fans wanted Faust to attack the rim, using his speed and jumping ability to his advantage rather than an inconsistent shooting stroke from deep. In this game, it appeared Faust took the advice.
"He took a big step," junior forward said. "He is young but today should be a boost of confidence for him. Going into the future hopefully he continues to play well."
Padgett has been a revelation for the Terps in conference play. He attacks the glass, ranking sixth nationally in offensive rebounds per game. Against Georgia Tech, Padgett hauled in seven more offensive boards. His game has never been about flash, but he works hard and has emerged as a critical piece for a Maryland team with visions of some sort of postseason tournament.
But the ceiling Faust is exponentially higher than Padgett. Faust has raw skills that made him a Baltimore schoolboy legend, and those skills will emerge throughout his time in College Park. By stuffing the stat sheet in a key conference win, Faust could be coming out sooner than expected.
"As I said on the radio, I need guys to grow up and Nick is growing up," Turgeon said. "He is listening and trying to do what is best for the team, and not what is best for him. We won today because he grew up and helped the team the way he was supposed to today."
If Faust can continue to play like that, there will be more wins in Maryland's future than we all expected.
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