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Eric Ayala on Cowan, Returning Core and New Point Guard Responsibilities

Junior point guard Eric Ayala joined Andy Katz for an interview this week as he talked about his personal expectation and replacing Cowan.

The Division I Council announced on Wednesday that the college basketball season for both men’s and women’s will begin on November 25 as teams begin preparing with a target in mind. For Maryland, getting consistent practice time has been easier said than done this offseason as the men’s basketball program was one of seven teams still suspended from training in the last round of COVID testing. As the team now marches forward with the 2020-21 season, excitement has set into the program as junior guard Eric Ayala joined Andy Katz for a Big Ten Network feature to explain the whirlwind of emotions.

“It all happened so fast, just everything with the season coming up with the global pandemic we’re in, we were practicing and going as if we were still having a season. Coach [Turgeon] had us in the gym every day, we were all preparing for it, nobody kind of took no days off. It was just a blessing to have the opportunity to go out there and play whether it’s in front of fans or not. I think we’re all here to just get back to where we were at and being Big Ten champions,” he added.

Ayala enters the season tasked with more responsibility compared to his first two seasons as he is now the Terps’ primary ballhandler to replace Anthony Cowan at the helm. Ayala admitted “replacing Anthony isn’t the easiest thing” as Turgeon told All Terrapins this month that Maryland will “need him to score more or look to score and be aggressive” to replace Cowan’s production, but Ayala is confident in himself because of his supporting cast.

“We all know what he’s done for our program and just the player that he is, he’s going to be in the rafters here at the University of Maryland. I think I have the experience, I got to play point guard some with Anthony and just playing alongside him, learned a lot from him in my two years here and I would say my teammates and my coaches help me out a lot. Coach Turgeon is always in my ear, my teammates, our leaders Aaron, Darryl those type of guys helping me out a lot and just trying to make the easiest transition that I can and take it one day at a time.”

Ayala mirrored Turgeon’s comments when asked how he can help fill the void left by the senior leader.

“Just being aggressive, getting my teammates involved being a leader and just impacting the game every way I can. On the defensive end, I think I got a high IQ so being able to just understand the game, knowing where guys supposed to be, using my voice talking, just being an all-around leader. I think I can score the ball; I can pass the ball and being effective on both ends of the floor with my size, I think I can guard most of the positions so being versatile in the way I play.”

As Maryland still awaits final word on final word in the appeal process for forward Jarius Hamilton, the Terps added a trio of freshmen while turning to grad transfer Galin Smith to help mitigate the loss of Jalen Smith. It won’t be a one-man job to replace the production that both Cowan and Smith gave to Maryland a year ago, but the returning core provides optimism for consistency. “I think we got a lot of pieces on this team; I wouldn’t say me Batman and kind of that deal it’s just collective effort. We got some new incoming freshman, Aquan Smart, Marcus Dockery and then of course Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, all those guys. We’re all going to have to step our games up with Stix and Anthony leaving, they were a big much punch of our offense and everything we did and we’re all going to have to step up this year.”

Ayala on speaking up for social activism:

"It’s something we’ve talked about a lot as a program. Coach Turgeon has kind of led us in Zoom calls that we’ve done throughout the summer and even until now in conversations and allowing us to speak our minds, just bring some sort of comfort to our program and just knowing everything that’s going on, recently we had conversations about wearing patches on our jerseys. I think as we go on, more things will come about in terms of us being able to use our platforms and speak on those type of things, but I think it will be a collective group thing and us trying to figure it out. But like I said, coach Turgeon has been awesome in helping us and making sure that we get to use our voice in our group setting."