The NBA Draft is set for November 18 as the first day of NBA Draft media availability kicked off on Monday with former Maryland center Jalen Smith among those meeting with reporters. The former two-year starter declared for the NBA Draft shortly after the 2019-20 season and has maintained first-round buzz in the summer mock drafts.
After expecting to play the four as a sophomore, the former Maryland big man told reporters he played out of position in his final season with the Terps “due to issues we had behind the scenes,” a possible reference to the midseason departures of Makhi and Makhel Mitchell. “At the end of the day, I brought my team a championship and its first since it came into the Big Ten, so I feel as though my year was a great accomplishment.”
Now, Smith enters the NBA Draft process a stretch big man who’s proud of what he put together last season as he began meeting with teams. Smith told reporters he has met with the Bulls, Nets, Raptors, Spurs, Suns and Wizards among others so far teams begin doing their homework. The hometown Wizards are desperately seeking help in the frontcourt and hold the ninth pick in November’s draft as Smith recalled the “most interesting” interview.
"I would say they were one of the most interesting interviews out of all of them. They were funny and they were pretty much just joking around with me the whole time,” Smith told reports. “My parents would be able to come to every game if I were picked by them.” Smith also called it an “honor” if he were to be drafted by the Spurs “and to play for coach Popovich,” while also praising the Bulls’ history that he basked in during the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.
“Obviously you know their past with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and then their newer age with Zach Levine, Coby White, Daniel Gafford and all the new players. It would be a fun thing playing in Chicago with the legendary aspect of it, obviously one of the Big Ten tournaments was at Chicago’s arena so just being able to look up to the Jordan jerseys was amazing. I’m close with some of the players on the team like Coby, I feel as though that it would be amazing thing to play with a friend like him and learn from all the players that’s ahead of me.”
Smith’s size and length is complimented by his soft touch from three that was on display during the Terps’ run to a Big Ten regular-season championship, but the ability to consistently shoot the three was a byproduct of his offseason development heading into his sophomore year. As Smith looks up to Kevin Garnett heading into his NBA career, his dedication to the gym before and after practice helped him improve his three-point shooting ten percent from his freshman year.
“At the college season it was pretty much getting in the gym a lot more than my freshman year and making sure that I’m getting up a lot more shots and to help my team later in the conference. Coach [Mark] Turgeon wouldn’t really let me out of the gym until I made around 500 threes after every practice and that just helped with the confidence boost of him putting in place for me to get threes. And then this offseason it’s been being able to expand my range while incorporating lifting just to help my body adjust to that type of range. Overall this offseason I’ve been shooting a lot more consistently and get it up a lot quicker.”
While entrenched in the first round of recent NBA Mock Drafts, Smith has drawn an array of projections as high as 13 to the New Orleans Pelicans and as low as 29 to the Toronto Raptors, but wherever he ends up will not deter his confidence.
“I’m highly confident just being able to come into the league and having an immediate impact. Obviously, it’s still a learning process so I’m going to learn from all the veterans and make sure I take in everything and learning and just getting late hours in the gym, making sure I continue to work on my craft and my body. Feel that just off the success I had in college being an undersized big and being able to go against big bodies every night, I feel as though that I can hold my own at the next level.”
Smith started all 31 games as a sophomore and was named First Team All-Big Ten while averaging 15.5 points and10.5 rebounds while shooting 53.8% from the field.