DeShawn Harris-Smith knows what it takes to establish himself on a talent-laden squad.
When Harris-Smith joined Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse St. Paul VI in Chantilly, Virginia, he was surrounded by players like current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Trevor Keels, Duke captain Jeremy Roach and Michigan sophomore Dug McDaniel.
Harris-Smith quickly realized his teammates’ skill meant they’d have the ball and he’d need to adopt a grittier playstyle to contribute.
“Playing defense, taking charges, running hard, diving on the floor,” Harris-Smith said. “I feel like it just gave me a kind of toughness that’s just been with me ever since I was little.”
The highly-rated Maryland freshman guard has already earned applause from college teammates and coaches for his competitiveness and aggressiveness — characteristics that aided his transition to high school basketball years ago.
Harris-Smith knows he’ll need to lean on that energetic play to make a similar breakthrough at the collegiate level. Even as a freshman, he’ll play often for the Terps, allowing him to develop and work towards his ultimate goal of making it to the NBA — a crucial factor in his commitment. Early action will also allow his work ethic, intensity and tenacity to shine through.
Ironically, those same traits made his first year of playing basketball as a kid “kind of bad,” his mother, Ericka Harris, said. Perhaps inspired by his time on the football field, Harris-Smith would respond to his father’s requests to play defense by tackling and attempting to run through opponents, his mom said.
Harris-Smith’s status as a multi-sport athlete — he also played football and baseball — waned as basketball became more ingrained in his life. He never returned to baseball after breaking his ankle and stopped football after a sciatic nerve in his back caused him to miss a season in eighth grade.
Through it all, basketball remained.
Harris-Smith eventually blossomed at Paul VI. He averaged 17.8 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and 2.6 steals per game during a senior season where he led a young Panthers team — with Roach, McDaniels and Keels graduated — to a WCAC final.
He was named WCAC and Virginia Gatorade player of the year, leaning on the guidance and journeys of his now-former teammates throughout.
The aggressive play and work ethic that drove him to success at the high school level have already shone through in his brief time with the Terps.
Willard hailed Harris-Smith as the most competitive person he’s been around. The freshman has been a key reason the coach said the Terps’ practices hadn’t run longer than an hour and 26 minutes at Big Ten media day, a fact Maryland forward Julian Reese highlighted later that day.
“[Harris-Smith] just brings it every game, every practice, a high competitor, coach has to tune it down a little bit,” Reese said.
“More than a little bit,” Willard responded with a laugh.
“Yeah, we go at it in practice,” Reese said.
When fans finally see Harris-Smith suit up for the Terps, they’ll witness his intensity even before the opening tip. He’s had the same shooting routine before each game since high school, putting up 350 shots from inside the three-point arc in order to get a feel for his touch.
He then eats a few Skittles before he’s announced as a starter, a tradition inspired by former Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. The Terps will need to stock up on the candy — Harris-Smith says he’ll continue eating it in College Park.
Even though Harris-Smith is yet to play a game for Maryland, there’s already speculation on when his Terps’ tenure could end.
Harris-Smith has seen his name listed in NBA mock drafts. He headlines a group of freshman Willard called the best he’s ever had. He’s Maryland’s third-best recruit since 2000, per 247Sports, only behind NBA draft picks Diamond Stone and Jalen Smith.
“I never really thought I would be in this spot, especially this year, the possibility of [being] a one-and-done,” Harris-Smith said. “I try to not let it get to my head because I haven’t done anything. I haven’t scored a single point in a Maryland Terps jersey.”
Despite that modesty, Harris-Smith has been clear that the long-term goal of making the NBA fuels him.
He recalled standing alongside Keels at his former teammates’ draft party and watching the New York Knicks select the guard in the second round of the 2022 NBA draft.
“Just seeing someone I’m so close to reach their dream, reach their goal and showing that somebody from … the same exact area could do it, that gives me hope that I could do it,” Harris-Smith said.
He chose Maryland to fulfill that hope. The trial and error that comes with plenty of playing time as a freshman will be important to his long-term development, he said. Willard promised to provide it during the recruiting process, Harris-Smith said.
The coach’s commitment played into the freshman’s goal of providing for his family through basketball. College Park’s proximity to the Virginia native’s family provided another perk the freshman has already taken advantage of.
“I was thrilled that he chose Maryland so I can go to, at least, all of the home games,” Harris said. “I told him wherever he was going I would follow and make as many games I want to, but it just makes it easier that he’s close and I can see him.”
Despite his lofty long-term plans, Harris-Smith has set objectives for his first season at Maryland. He wants to lead the team in assists and win Big Ten freshman of the year, something no Terp has accomplished.
The jump it’ll take to shine at the college level is one Harris-Smith made when entering a talented Paul VI program. He knows the traits that helped him succeed then will be crucial to accomplishing his short and long-term goals in College Park.
“I just want to go out there [and] be the heart and soul of the team,” Harris-Smith said. “I’m gonna encourage my teammates and be the loudest one on the court. I mean, [fans] might think I’m a little crazy for a little bit, but I feel like what people [are] gonna see is the passion I got for the game.”