Toward the end of last season, as the Maryland men’s basketball team made its postseason run through the ACC tournament and into the National Invitation Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden, the Terrapins began deviating from their smash-mouth principles, succeeding instead with guard-heavy lineups featuring, at most, one big man. It all culminated against Denver in the second round, when an utterly baffled Coach Mark Turgeon threw his hands up, tossed five guards onto the floor and basically let them play pickup.
Things will be a little more structured next season, but having transfer Evan Smotrycz eligible will allow Turgeon to experiment more with four-guard or even five-guard lineups, hurling wrenches at opposing defenses with the versatile stretch four.
In an interview Thursday, Smotrycz said that it “feels like forever ago” that he transferred from Michigan to Maryland, though it’s only been just over a year. Sitting on the bench at Comcast Center, barred by NCAA rules from traveling with the team to road games, Smotrycz says he gained a unique perspective from watching the Terps.
“A lot has changed,” Smotrycz said. “Not only me personally, but my game, just the way my attitude and I think I’ve matured and I think I’ve learned a lot in the year sitting out watching. It’s definitely different, sitting out. I think I got the best of both worlds. I’ve changed a lot.”
It’s hard not to notice the junior forward, who is 6 feet 9 with dirty blonde curls and scruff annexing his face. But for one year Smotrycz flew under the radar, almost forgotten since transferring from Michigan, simply a dangerous member of the practice squad and a key cog for the future.
“People have said that,” he said. “Obviously there are fans who know, but I wasn’t too worried about that, wondering, ‘Oh, why don’t you guys know me?’ ”
Teams will this season. It’s easy to picture Maryland rolling with a lineup of, say, Seth Allen, Nick Faust, Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Smotrycz, stretching defenses while still maintaining the lengthy athleticism necessary to guard on the opposite end.
Smotrycz said the circumstances of his departure from Michigan, last season’s national runner-up, have been skewed in the public’s eye.
“A lot of people think I left Michigan because they had me playing the five,” he said. “But the stuff they had me doing at the five at Michigan is what a stretch four would be doing somewhere else. The main problem was physically I couldn’t guard guys like [Ohio State’s Jared] Sullinger], and I was in foul trouble and out of games quick. More so, I wanted a play where I had freedom to do what I knew I could do and expand my game.”
College Park certainly offers that opportunity. With only three true post players left on scholarship after Alex Len’s departure, Smotrycz will see plenty of time at the four or five, but in a role comparable to Duke’s Ryan Kelly. Still, he’s flexible enough to handle whatever Turgeon tosses onto the court alongside him. And given that the Terps have an entire offseason to hone their new-found identity, it won’t be quite a surprise anymore.
“I think we could be really good,” Smotrycz said. “Got a year under most of the guys’ belts. Last year we were really young and didn’t know how to win. Towards the end we started figuring it out a little bit.
“Coach has been kind of experimenting with different types of stuff. We’ve got a lot of guys who can score and I think we can play a lot of different ways, a lot of versatility. The main thing will be defensively, getting stops so we can get out and run.”