The 2019-20 Maryland men's basketball team entered the campaign with lofty expectations, evident by its No. 7 preseason ranking in the Associated Press poll. But many surrounding the team knew the Terps would only be able to attain that high level of success if rising sophomore Jalen Smith made a major jump.
When big man Bruno Fernando declared for the NBA Draft following the 2018-19 season, the Terps had a major hole to fill in the middle. Smith has done just that.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore has transformed into one of the best big men in the country, averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Smith earned first-team Big Ten honors by both the media and coaches as well the league's all-defense team. His Terps cut down the nets on Sunday after Maryland edged Michigan, capturing a share of the Big Ten regular-season title for the first time since moving to the conference in 2014.
Fernando, alongside former Terp and current Atlanta Hawks teammates Kevin Huerter, were in the nation's capital Friday, as the Hawks faced off with the Wizards. Fernando was asked about Smith's growth, and he couldn't be prouder of the sophomore.
"Everything he's doing on the floor. His impact, he's doing whatever the team needs him to do," Fernando told reporters at Hawks shootaround on Friday. "He's playing within his role, coming out and shooting jumpers, being able to play and be a presence in the post. Rebounding is one thing I got on him about a lot last year, and I think he's responded well to that."
Smith, alongside senior point guard Anthony Cowan, has been the heart and soul of this Terrapins team. Maryland feeds off their energy; Terps head coach Mark Turgeon admitted such following Maryland's victory on Sunday. When both are on their games, the Terps are one of the best teams in the country. When one is off, Maryland struggles.
Fernando and Huerter were surprise guests in attendance for the Terps' senior day the Xfinity Center on Sunday. The two played in D.C. on Friday and in Charlotte on Saturday but made it back to College Park to see the Terps capture a title on Sunday; something neither one of them did in their time at Maryland.
Be Greater than those Before You— Bruno Fernando™ (@BrunoFernandoMV) March 10, 2020
You r the true meaning of that my Dawg❤️🤞🏾 @JalenSmith2000 Lov Ya Fam✊🏾 Keep your foot on the gas CHAMP🏆 https://t.co/G2zdOzw8Ri
Smith showed out in front of them, notching 18 points and 11 rebounds, including a fantastic buzzer-beating deep three as the first half expired. Cowan dazzled in his final outing in College Park, finishing with a team-high 20 points on 7-11 shooting, his most efficient effort of the season.
The double-double was Smith's 21st of the season, one shy of Fernando's record of 22 from a year ago.
"I think he will. I think he has the chance to do it," Fernando said on Smith passing his double-double record. "I'm extremely happy for him as well. When he broke the consecutive [doubele-double record], he texted me right away saying 'I got you.' It's great to see him working hard and accomplish all the things he's doing throughout the season. I'm glad he's catching up."
The Terps begin postseason play on Friday, as they are the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Smith has had an incredible campaign thus far, but the Terps know he cannot afford to let up even once if they want to go dancing deep into March.
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