Maryland men’s basketball’s Jalen Smith declares for NBA Draft

Forward Jalen Smith cuts the net after winning a share of the Big Ten title after Maryland men's basketball's 83-70 win over Michigan at Xfinity Center on March 8, 2020. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

Jalen Smith will forgo his remaining eligibility with Maryland men’s basketball, declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft after two standout seasons in College Park, the forward announced in a statement posted Tuesday on Twitter.

The sophomore posted 21 double-doubles — tied for third-most in the country — while helping to lead the Terps to a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Smith averaged over 31 minutes per game during the 2019-2020 season, providing a team-high 10.5 rebounds.

His surge in three-point proficiency during Big Ten Conference games — shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc, good for sixth-highest in the conference — added another weapon to his arsenal. And during conference matchups, Smith shot a Big Ten-best 56.1 percent.

“After consultation with my family and coaches, I am thankful and grateful to announce that the time is right for me to move forward to the next phase in my basketball career and declare for the 2020 NBA Draft,” Smith wrote in a statement. “I am thankful to the coaches and staff at the University of Maryland who afforded me the opportunity to stay home to receive an education and play basketball at the college of my dreams.”

[Read more: Maryland basketball forward Jalen Smith turned his hatred for losing into motivation]

Smith built off a freshman season in which he played his best basketball in March, scoring 19 points with 12 rebounds in Maryland’s NCAA tournament-opening win against Belmont, while adding 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the season-ending loss to LSU in the next round.

The 6-foot-10 big man didn’t have an opportunity to test himself in the postseason this year, with the coronavirus pandemic cutting short his sophomore year before the Big Ten tournament.

“I am thrilled for Jalen and his family for making such an important and exciting decision,” coach Mark Turgeon wrote in a statement. “From the minute we started recruiting Jalen, we knew the kind of quality player and person we would be getting and he lived up to it in every way. As incredible of a player Jalen is on the court, he is that and more as an individual off the court. We will miss him in College Park. I cannot wait to watch Jalen at the next level and I wish him and his family nothing but the best on their journey.”

Without Smith returning, the Terps will be thin in the frontcourt headed into the 2020-2021 campaign. Forward Ricky Lindo announced last week he would enter the transfer portal, leaving Joshua Tomaic, Donta Scott and Chol Marial as Maryland’s only returning big men.

Maryland announced last week the addition of transfer Jairus Hamilton, a 6-foot-8 forward from Boston College. But Hamilton — who will have two years of eligibility remaining — will need to sit out a season unless the NCAA grants him an individual waiver, or gives a blanket transfer waiver for all players.

Smith adapted to a new role this past season without forward Bruno Fernando to join him in the frontcourt. As a freshman, the Baltimore native played mainly as a four, averaging 11.7 points per game.

With Fernando joining the NBA and midseason movement in College Park — forwards Makhi and Makhel Mitchell left the program in December — Smith was relied upon to play the five this season. His post play improved, and his ability to stay on the floor for long stretches without major foul trouble anchored the Terps’ defense.

Now, Maryland will be forced to adapt without one of its most dominant interior players in recent memory. Smith was a finalist for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year honor and a semifinalist for the Citizen Naismith Player of the Year award, given to the best player in men’s college basketball.

“I’m also thankful to my brothers who donned the Terrapin uniform with me at XFINITY Center and to the best fans in all of college sports, Terp Nation,” Smith’s statement continued.

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