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Jalen Smith Is a Crucial Piece for Maryland as the Terps Aim for a Bounce-Back Year

After injuries and underperformance made Maryland's 2017–18 season a disappointing one, the Terps are hoping their No. 7 recruiting class, led by Jalen Smith, is the real deal.
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In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.

With that in mind, will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 16 recruit, Maryland's Jalen Smith. You can view all of the profiles to date here.

What he means for the Terps’ recruiting class

The crown jewel of Maryland’s seventh-ranked 2018 recruiting class, Smith is Mark Turgeon’s first five-star since Diamond Stone in ’15 and just the program's second composite one since Mike Jones in ’03. The 6'10" power forward is a local product from Baltimore who was the top-ranked player in the state and chose the Terps over offers from Virginia and Villanova, among others. Maryland has struggled at times recruiting in Baltimore, so landing someone of Smith’s caliber helps it not just now on the court, but also potentially with future recruits in the area. Smith’s commitment back in June 2017 wound up the lone one out of the several 2018 five-stars Turgeon targeted, but a solid group of talented perimeter players, which includes four-stars Aaron Wiggins (No. 41 in the RSCI) and Eric Ayala (No. 84) and three-star Serrel Smith, joins the big man.

How He Fits

Smith is an ideal complement to returning center and All–Big Ten candidate Bruno Fernando and will almost certainly slide into the starting power forward slot. Smith’s nickname “Sticks” points to the fact that he definitely needs to bulk up from his listed 195-pound frame, but he should contribute from day one in College Park—and will need to, if the Terrapins are to rebound from last year’s disappointing season. Smith runs the floor well and is active on both the offensive and defensive ends, hitting the glass and blocking shots. His intelligence, athleticism and coordination give him a nose for the ball as a scorer, and if those traits translate immediately, he and Fernando could form one of the best frontcourt duos in the Big Ten, if not the country. At the very least, they’re likely to regularly put on a show above the rim. Of notable importance for the Terps will be finding enough outside shooting in the wake of Kevin Huerter’s NBA departure to free up space for the two in the paint and keep opposing defenses honest. When Smith is off the floor, Turgeon may at times employ a more small-ball approach at the four spot, giving opponents a different look.

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Importance to Maryland’s success/team outlook

Even as a freshman, Smith will have an important role if Maryland wants to get back to the NCAA tournament after a year where it didn’t even make the NIT. Behind Fernando and Smith, the latter of whom is obviously lacking experience himself, there’s a real lack of proven depth in the frontcourt. Redshirt sophomore Joshua Tomiac (who averaged 8.8 minutes in 2017–18), oft-injured senior Ivan Bender, unranked freshman Trace Ramsey and August reclassification commit Ricky Lindo are the only other players 6'7" or taller on the roster. If Smith and Fernando stay healthy and take care of business down low, Maryland’s ceiling likely rests on its perimeter play, namely whether at least one of Wiggins, Ayala or sophomore Darryl Morsell (a high school teammate of Smith) can emerge as a true offensive threat alongside veteran junior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. Wiggins, a resourceful scorer who could start on the wing, seems the most likely of those to break out. If that happens, this team has the talent to go dancing and compete in the Big Ten. If it doesn’t, or if Smith struggles to adjust physically to the rigors of college basketball or simply isn’t quite ready to make an impact, it could be another frustrating season in College Park.