Maryland men’s basketball coach Kevin Willard didn’t temper expectations for freshman DeShawn Harris-Smith ahead of his first collegiate season, calling him the most talented and physically gifted player he’s ever coached.
In the Terps’ season-opener on Tuesday, Harris-Smith debuted and showed why his coach had that confidence.
Harris-Smith became the first true freshman to start for Maryland in a season-opener since 2018, scoring 12 points with four rebounds and two assists. A block and pair of steals rounded out the freshman’s box score as Maryland took down Mount St. Mary’s, 68-53.
“I was really happy with the way he played defensively. Offensively it’s just gonna take him a little time to just get a little bit more comfortable,” Willard said. “[He] really made some great plays.”
Harris-Smith’s teammates raved about his competitiveness and energy throughout the preseason, which fans finally got to see in game action.
He first showed it on the defensive end, where Harris-Smith quickly tallied two steals and a block in under a minute early in the first half. The plays earned roars from Xfinity Center, where members of Harris-Smith’s former high school team at Paul VI were in attendance.
“A goal coming to Maryland and being part of the team, I was trying to be the player that plays the hardest every single game,” Harris-Smith said. “That’s just energy plays, it takes no talent to go out there [and] block shots, get a steal, it’s just all about how bad you want it.”
Harris-Smith’s first points came midway through the first half on another energy play. He grabbed a Jahmir Young miss and made a putback layup.
The freshman shot 4-of-6 from both the field and the free throw line. He missed both of his three-point attempts but converted on all of his shots inside the arc.
Harris-Smith had the ball in his hands for a considerable amount of time, finishing the game with the third-highest usage rate for Maryland behind Young and Julian Reese. Usage rate estimates the percentage of team plays that used a player while they were on the floor.
Willard said he thought Harris-Smith looked great as a ball handler, a role he’ll likely play a lot throughout the season.
“I’m comfortable being a primary ball handler and that was a big reason I came to Maryland, because coach Willard believed in me,” Harris-Smith said. “I can run the point guard [when] Jahmir’s off the court and be a secondary ball handler when he’s on the court.”
Harris-Smith’s first assist came with under six minutes left in the first half. The freshman attacked the rim, drawing in the Mountaineers’ defense. While in mid-air, the guard found guard Jahari Long in the corner for a Terps’ three.
His second helper came early in the second half when he threw a lob to Young, who slammed in the alley-oop. Harris-Smith went down seconds later with a cramp but returned after spending less than five minutes on the bench.
“I think the biggest thing for him is just finding where to be a little bit more aggressive with the basketball,” Willard said. “His next step is understanding, ‘When is it my turn to go, and when is it my turn to get relaxed?’”
Harris-Smith started alongside three seniors, two of them in their fifth year, and a junior. Despite the gap in experience, the freshman looked like he belonged as he started his Terps career.