- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

Jamar Smith must feel like an old man on Maryland’s young basketball team. The 6-foot-9 center, who will turn 23 on Friday, is the lone senior. He looks across the locker room and sees nine talented freshmen and sophomores looking for direction.

Though not a natural leader, Smith is beginning to embrace the role. The explosive big man, described as a less flashy Chris Wilcox because his all-around ability when he came to Maryland, settled into a reserve position last season on a Terrapins squad guided by four seniors. Now Smith is making a concerted effort to be a leader away from the hardwood as well as in the paint.

“He still likes to joke around and have fun,” said sophomore point guard John Gilchrist, who notices a difference when Smith enters the Comcast Center. “His whole approach on the court and in the locker room has changed tremendously. He was the type that would just lay back and chill and not really say much. Now he is more of a vocal leader. He will encourage the young post players and pat them on the back and give advice. That’s what we need from everybody with experience because experience is what we are lacking.”

Smith, a junior college All-American at Allegany (Md.) College before transferring to Maryland last year, has been an inside force this season. Maryland has struggled from the perimeter and has been particularly woeful on 3-pointers, making just nine of 35 (25.7 percent). Meanwhile, Smith has displayed a knack for taking over games underneath.

The agile center posted two double-doubles this season and made several key plays in critical moments to thwart George Mason’s upset bid earlier this week. Smith scored a career-high 19 points, collected 12 rebounds and played throughout the second half before leaving when Maryland held a comfortable lead in the final minute.

The Terps (2-0) will look for more of the same tonight when they play host to Hofstra (1-2). Tonight will be Maryland’s third straight warmup before a tougher and much more physical test when No.15 Wisconsin visits Tuesday.

“We knew we could score if we got him the ball,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team continued to struggle on offense against George Mason. “Jamar showed his experience by using his quickness and not trying to turn it into a wrestling match out there. … Players need each other. That’s why Jamar Smith was so big [against George Mason]. They saw what he was doing out there. It was pretty impressive.”

Smith displayed his athleticism by using a drop-step maneuver to spin around a wider, less agile defender for easy scores. He also was a major factor in beating the zone because of his ability to collapse the defense once he gets the ball inside. The long-armed center is an innate rebounder and is strong with putbacks. He also showed the ability to shoot from outside when he made the first 3-pointer of his career in the first half.

“Now that I am starting, I can just stay calm and play,” said Smith, who played 37 minutes. “I feel like I am always in good shape. That’s my main key because I like to run the floor and beat people down the floor.”

He keyed the Terps after the Patriots erased a nine-point lead late in the first half and built a four-point lead shortly after halftime. An upset seemed possible because his younger teammates were rattled, but Smith’s dunk started an 8-0 run that put Maryland ahead for good. He fed Gilchrist for a layup to tie the game and later gave the Terps a 51-47 advantage when he started a play with a defensive rebound and finished with a layup.

“Everybody tells me how good I can be,” Smith said. “I am just trying to stay focused and play hard. That’s basically what I’m going to do. As long as I do that, I am likely to get double-doubles.”

Williams thinks the team’s poor outside shooting will improve when the plays start with Smith. The coach feels the younger players are rushing their shots, and he would like to see more passes inside and kick-outs to teammates for open looks.

So far the smooth senior has thrived in a featured role.

“Jamar is a beast,” Gilchrist said. “The coaches have really got in his head that we really need him to be more of a leader this year, more vocal and more expressive. If you look at a guy who is just laid-back like that, some people might mistake that as not playing hard or not giving it his all. Now he is just doing everything for us. He is really controlling the paint. I really appreciate his presence.”


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