‘I Got A Winning Mindset’: After Testing Draft Waters, Guard Eric Ayala Wants To Use Lessons Learned To Lead Maryland Men’s Basketball In His Final Season

<‘I Got A Winning Mindset’: After Testing Draft Waters, Guard Eric Ayala Wants To Use Lessons Learned To Lead Maryland Men’s Basketball In His Final Season>

Maryland men’s basketball senior guard Eric Ayala follows the beat of his own drum.

Maryland men's guard Hakim Hart, left, tries to drive to the basket against teammate Fatts Russell during practice on media day. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's guard Hakim Hart, left, tries to drive to the basket against teammate Fatts Russell during practice on media day.

Ayala doesn’t try to emulate NBA players or hold himself to the standards of former teammates Anthony Cowan Jr., Darryl Morsell or Jalen Smith. As Ayala prepares for his final season in College Park, he plans to guide the Terps with his brand of leadership and winning mentality.

“I try not to put too much on my shoulders because I feel like it’s just basketball at the end of the day,” Ayala said Tuesday at Maryland’s media day. “I got a winning mindset. For me, making that rub off on my teammates and letting it be contagious. I want to win by any means necessary.”

Ayala had a humbling offseason. After leading the Terps in scoring last season, averaging 15.1 points per game on 43.7% shooting from the field, he declared for the NBA draft while retaining eligibility.

Ayala was not selected for the NBA draft combine but said the draft process was an eye-opening experience that allowed him to see where he needs to grow.

“I feel like my work ethic, playing hard the whole game,” Ayala said. “Not having lapses in the game where I’m fatigued. Definitely conditioning myself. A lot of people know I can score with ease, but being able to showcase that I can defend at a higher level is something important for me.”

Maryland men's basketball guard Eric Ayala shoots a jumper while teammate Donta Scott looks on during practice in College Park, Md. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball guard Eric Ayala shoots a jumper while teammate Donta Scott looks on during practice in College Park, Md.

In June, Ayala announced his return to Maryland. Meanwhile, his former teammate, Aaron Wiggins, was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.

“[When] you’re winning, and you’re playing at Maryland, you think it’s automatic you might get a chance to go to the NBA,” Terps coach Mark Turgeon said. “It humbled him, and he worked hard. He had a great summer, realizing there are some things like leadership, being more consistent, [and] becoming a better defender.”

When it comes to NBA draft prospects, players like Ayala sometimes have the odds stacked against them. Teams typically favor younger prospects over upperclassmen. For Ayala, players like the Sacramento Kings’ Davion Mitchell, Indiana Pacers’ Chris Duarte and Washington Wizards’ Corey Kispert, who were seniors drafted in the first round, serve as an inspiration.

Maryland men's basketball forward James Graham drives to the basket for a dunk. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball forward James Graham drives to the basket for a dunk.

“I feel like there were a lot of guys this year that were [veterans] that got drafted,” Ayala said. “Being a veteran guy and having that aspiration, I’m telling myself to be NBA-ready. I came back here to develop more. I went through that interview process last year, so I know what I got to work on. When I go [to the NBA], I want to be able to help a team win right away.”

Ayala’s leadership has helped Maryland’s nine new players adjust to the team. He said he and the other players use video games such as “NBA 2K” to strengthen their communication.

“The one thing that comes to mind is a leader,” said junior center Qudus Wahab, who transferred from Georgetown. “[Ayala] is very vocal. He talks to me a lot on the sidelines. He talks to everybody, the new guys especially.”

Maryland men's basketball guard Eric Ayala looks to receive a pass. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball guard Eric Ayala looks to receive a pass.

Ayala isn’t the type of leader who will be super loud. However, he will lead by example.

“If I tell them we got locked in on defense, I got to be locked in,” Ayala said. “If we got to make shots, I got to be making shots. I got to make the right decisions. Leading by example is important for me in helping this team reach our peak.”

After spending last season as Maryland’s point guard, Ayala will play off the ball more, as Rhode Island transfer guard Fatts Russell will take the lead guard spot.

“With my size, it helps me a lot playing at the two,” said Ayala, who is listed as 6 feet 5. “I can guard bigger guards. I can switch out and with my IQ. I can play the one as well.”

Maryland men's basketball guard/forward James Graham III follows through on his jump shot during practice on media day in College Park, Md. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball guard/forward James Graham III follows through on his jump shot during practice on media day in College Park, Md.

Ayala and Russell have the potential to be one of the best backcourts in the nation this season. Russell said Ayala will make his job easier, as he can relinquish the ball with the confidence Ayala will make a play.

Maryland men's basketball forward James Graham drives to the basket for a dunk during a workout on media day. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball forward James Graham drives to the basket for a dunk during a workout on media day.

“Eric is just a tremendous player,” Russell, a graduate student, said. “He can make shots in different ways. My job is kind of easy. Just make sure he gets those shots. We always encourage each other and make sure that we stay up. We are kind of like a perfect fit.”

Maryland men's basketball guard Eric Ayala addresses the media after practice on media day. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball guard Eric Ayala addresses the media after practice on media day.

Ayala will tell you 100 times that he wants to win in his final season with the Terps. After Maryland went 17-14 and lost to Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, Ayala wants to take the Terps to the next level.

“Winning is the most important thing to me,” Ayala said. “I’ve got aspirations of being the number one team in the Big Ten, winning the Big Ten regular-season championship, the Big Ten tournament championship, and then making a deep run in March. I’ve been through the ropes. I’ve been eliminated in the round of 32, twice. Now is the time we take that extra step. I’m excited.”

Maryland men's basketball forward Qudus Wahab addresses the media after practice. © Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun Maryland men's basketball forward Qudus Wahab addresses the media after practice.

Turgeon said Ayala’s returning to college has given him a chance to win a Big Ten title that can hang from the rafters inside Xfinity Center. “Who knows what kind of year he’s going to have,” Turgeon said. “But coming back, he has a chance to do that.”

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/ncaabk/i-got-a-winning-mindset-after-testing-draft-waters-guard-eric-ayala-wants-to-use-lessons-learned-to-lead-maryland-men-s-basketball-in-his-final-season/ar-AAPsv9f

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‘I got a winning mindset’: After testing draft waters, guard Eric Ayala wants to use lessons learned to lead Maryland men’s basketball in his final season

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