By: Jordan Gold
Former five-star recruit Jalen Smith has not received the same hype surrounding his college basketball debut as other five stars like Romeo Langford at Indiana or even the type of hype Diamond Stone generated a few seasons ago before his Maryland debut, but that has not phased the standout power forward.
Smith, a freshman from Baltimore, was the No. 10 player in the 2018 class, according to ESPN, and is expected to start this season for the Terps. Although he is not receiving the same national attention that some of his fellow five-star players are, head coach Mark Turgeon and others around the program have high hopes for him and expect him to be a major contributor this season.
To this point, Turgeon has been extremely impressed with what he has seen from Smith in the preseason and expects that the national attention will arrive for Smith very soon.
“He has been terrific. He is great off the court. I don’t think [the national recognition] will be quiet for very long. I think once he puts up his first double-double, which could happen the first night we play, then the national attention will come,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon also praised how humble Smith has been given his standing as a former McDonald’s All-American. The eighth-year coach credits that trait to the values Smith’s parents have instilled in him.
In addition to the excitement about Smith’s character, Turgeon is also exhilarated with the work he has seen between Smith and star center Bruno Fernando, a front-court pairing that will likely be used frequently this season.
“Him and Bruno have developed a nice little chemistry among them and I think they are going to play well together,” Turgeon said.
Turgeon’s comments were also echoed by Fernando, who said that he and Smith have been working very well together and that their chemistry grows every single day. The star center from Angola has also been impressed with Smith’s work ethic.
“He keeps getting better everyday and we are just taking it one day at a time and we are working hard. I think he is a pretty dedicated guy, I have seen him in the gym early every time before workouts,” Fernando said.
When it comes to the dynamic duo in the frontcourt, Smith also agreed with his coach and front-court running mate, Fernando, about how well the two have been working together.
“It is going to be tough for other teams to guard this year, they are going to have to choose who they are going to play. It is going to open up a lot of space for our team,” Smith said.
One of the criticisms of Smith’s game has been that he is too skinny to compete with the big men in the college game, as he was a 6-foot-10, 195-pound big man when he arrived for summer workouts. But according to Smith and Turgeon, he has put on about 20 pounds of muscle this offseason.
“My body is still adjusting to the weight, so it is going to take a while because I have never really put that much weight on before,” Smith said. “Overall my body feels great and I feel like I’m playing great.”
When asked how his game will translate to the college level and how he will fit in with the rest of the team, Smith said he thinks that his versatility is one of his best attributes due to his ability to play inside and outside of the post. Smith said that his favorite Terp to watch growing up was another forward who could play inside and outside: Robert Carter Jr.
Maryland fans will be very pleased to hear that when asked about which NBA player Smith models his game after, he said Anthony Davis but with Kobe Bryant’s signature “mamba mentality.” If Smith can give the Terps anywhere near the production Davis gave Kentucky as a freshman, they should be in very good shape come March.