Evan Smotrycz waited a year for that night to arrive, when he finally could suit up for the Maryland men’s basketball team. According to NCAA rules, transferring from Michigan had meant sitting out last season. Game days were the worst. He spent those either on the bench at Comcast Center, restless in street clothes. Or alone watching from the couches inside the locker room during road games.
Friday afternoon, that year off culminated in the junior forward’s long awaited debut, and for one half he helped carry the Terrapins. A late gaffe in a 78-77 loss to 19th-ranked Connecticut in Brooklyn soured Smotrycz’s debut, but otherwise Maryland couldn’t have asked for much more from its newest weapon.
“Yeah Evan was good,” Coach Mark Turgeon said. “He rebounded well, which was big for us. He made some shots for us. I was pleased with Evan. He hasn’t been practicing very well lately, so it was a big step for him. Obviously I played him 37 minutes, so I thought he was doing pretty well.”
Those 37 minutes both tied for a team-high and set Smotrycz’s new career-best. At Michigan, where he appeared in consecutive NCAA tournaments with the Wolverines, Smotrycz never played more than 35 minutes. But his presence in College Park gives the Terrapins a towering – he is listed at 6 feet 9 but adamantly insists that he is 6 feet 10 – perimeter option who can both shoot and create matchup problems for opposing wings.
He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in his Maryland debut, shooting 5 for 10 from the field and 3 for 5 on three-pointers. He committed zero turnovers, mostly catching and shooting along the wing, and handed out two assists.
“I’m proud of the way everyone fought,” Smotrycz said. “Would have loved to win. But U-Conn’s a really good team. For us to execute that well down the stretch, it’s something I can build off.”
While big buckets from Dez Wells and Nick Faust helped the Terps overcome a 17-point second-half deficit, Connecticut’s lead might have grown even larger had Smotrycz not made 4 of 6 shots for 10 points by intermission. His three first-half rebounds were concerning and, without Alex Len around to gobble up on the glass, may become a liability on the defensive end against taller teams whenever Smotrycz plays the power forward spot.
“If I’m going to play high minutes against guys like U-Conn., who have such length and good big guys, got to hit the board,” he said. “Just got to do my part.”
This April, Smotrycz’s teammates packed into his off-campus apartment, which he shared with Faust, Pe’Shon Howard and James Padgett. The Final Four was on, and Michigan was playing. Smotrycz says he never felt remorse for leaving Ann Arbor, because he wanted to expand his game and move back outside. As he watched the Wolverines reach the title game, old friends starring on the national stage, Smotrycz thought about his new home, and the days that remained until he could finally play too.
“I was definitely having fun,” he said Saturday. “I love playing basketball. Like I said, it was good to be back.”