- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2020

When Jalen Smith finished his freshman year at Maryland, the forward wasn’t ready for the NBA yet.

Even after an impressive first season with the Terrapins, there were things Smith needed to prove. Chief among them: Show he could hit shots consistently from deep, step out of Bruno Fernando’s shadow and add bulk to his 6-foot-10 frame.

“I think [after] those 12 months, he’s ready now,” said Pat Clatchey, Smith’s former coach at Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore.

Smith demonstrated the growth he needed to — with his game and with his body — between years one and two that convinced the Suns to use the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday to select him.

The forward came back for his sophomore season with the Terrapins about 35 pounds heavier. He knocked down 36.8 percent of his threes and 53.8 percent of his attempts overall. He averaged a double-double with 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

It’s that jump that brought Smith here, becoming the Maryland’s first lottery pick since 2013. And Smith thinks this is just the start.

“I think my shot will be very consistent,” Smith said last week on a conference call. “Obviously, with this time off, I was able to get a lot more adjusted to the NBA three-point line, get a lot more shots up, and I think my work ethic and my late nights in the gym are going to be very crucial for me to become a good shooter at the NBA level.”

He’ll now link up with Chris Paul and Devin Booker in Phoenix, although the Suns already have 22-year-old center DeAndre Ayton. In 2013, the Suns also chose a big man from Maryland. That year it was 7-foot-1 center Alex Len with the 5th overall pick.

Smith showed throughout his time with the Terrapins he could play at either the four or five. When he had Fernando in the frontcourt with him, Smith could play outside the paint, creating mismatches with his size.

He struggled at times during his freshman year facing more physical bigs, and adding weight during the offseason ahead of his sophomore campaign enabled Smith to take on a more expansive role in coach Mark Turgeon’s system. He could post up on big players, such as when he scored 18 points against Iowa and Luka Garza. He could also step out and hit shots.

That combination attracted teams to Smith in the pre-draft process, and eventually led to the Suns selecting him.

“A lot of teams, they love my energy,” Smith said. “They love the way I was shooting the ball, they love the way my body changed and how my game changed from my last game in college until now.”

Most mock drafts had Smith going later in the first round. Some doubts were risen regarding Smith’s defense, and how he’ll adjust to facing quicker players if he plays the four.

But his offense and speed running the floor provide optimism for what Smith can become at the next level.

“I think the way he plays,” Clatchey said, “his game translates to the NBA.”


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