The public’s eye barely noticed him last season, save perhaps the savvy courtside attire and occasional inspirational tweet when the Maryland men’s basketball team traveled for road games. He was a hidden force for the Terrapins during practice, a unique practice player capable of both dropping buzzer-beating three-pointers and bodying up the team’s biggest players down low. Yet outside of prematurely looking ahead to 2013-14, his name was rarely mentioned.
Now, “next season” has become “this summer,” and so increases the excitement and anticipation surrounding Evan Smotrycz, who sat out last year as a transfer from Michigan.
“We’re all expecting a lot out of him,” Coach Mark Turgeon said Tuesday on the final Coaches Caravan stop. “You don’t want to put too much pressure on a kid, but he’s a weapon we don’t have. He gives us another dimension. He can do a lot of things.”
Chief among those is Smotrycz’s shooting abilities. He’s a lifetime 41.4 percent three-point shooter (45.5 percent from the field) in 302 attempts over two seasons with Michigan. He expects to serve as Maryland’s stretch-four, a 6-foot-9 junior capable of running the wing against bigger defenders, posting up against the smaller ones and generally shooting the lights out of the Comcast Center.
“He can shoot the 3, do it off the dribble, he can post up and guard multiple positions,” Turgeon said. “We really worked him a lot at the two and three at practice last year. I think it really helped his game. We have a lot of high goals and expectations this year.”
On a team with no scholarship seniors and just one senior altogether in John Auslander, experienced leadership will come from unlikely sources. Dez Wells is the obvious choice, an instant presence once he arrived last August who developed into the program’s public face and its emotional general. But Smotrycz, who has averaged 12 points over three NCAA tournament games, will easily slide into a more vocal role.
“I think just to get used to a different mindset,” Turgeon said. “He had a redshirt year, where he was just trying to improve his body and work hard. I think he did. I think he worked hard, became a better athlete, I think this summer is about acclimating himself within the team and becoming a leader.
“Last year, it’s hard, you’re kind of new. John Auslander’s our only senior, so I think Evan has a chance to be a part of the leadership for us. I’d like to see him do some of that, just get acclimated. He’s starting to do that. He’s getting after it more and more in the weight room.”
Turgeon said director of basketball performance Kyle Tarp has repeatedly praised Smotrycz’s leadership in the weight room, where he spent most of his ineligibility last season, working on his body composition.
Smotrycz left Michigan, last season’s national runner-up, with little regrets. The Wolverines wanted him to play inside. He wanted to play along the perimeter.
“No. Not at all,” Smotrycz said in February. “Everyone asks me that: ‘Aren’t you [upset] when Michigan was ranked first and stuff?’ I talk to the guys still, and I’m happy for them. At the same time, I wasn’t leaving because the team wasn’t good. I was leaving to do something for me, and to better myself. I’m happy for them. They could win a national title and I’d still be happy for them. I wouldn’t disappointed at all, because I know I made the right decision.”
His presence will also greater diversify a rotation featuring just three young post players – Charles Mitchell, Shaq Cleare and Damonte Dodd. Against smaller teams, it wouldn’t be crazy to expect a lineup of, say, Seth Allen, Nick Faust, Jake Layman, Wells and Smotrycz.
“He won’t always guard the biggest post, but when we play bigger teams, he’ll guard it,” Turgeon said. “Certain lineups, I’ve talked to him, he didn’t come here to play the five, but in certain lineups we can really spread the floor, put him at the five if we’re down in a game or they’re playing really small lineups and not posting their center, we can go that lineup ourselves. It gives us a lot of versatility.”