Smith took a significant leap after his freshman year, when he was still a lanky teenager who embodied his nickname, “Stix.” Through the offseason, Smith developed physically, and during the season he proved he could match up against the conference’s best big men. Smith improved in nearly every statistical category as a sophomore, and he particularly developed as a three-point shooter. He made 28 of 68 three-point attempts (41.2 percent) during conference play. Smith was the only player in the country to record at least 60 blocks and 30 three-pointers.
“I couldn’t be happier for Jalen and his family tonight,” Coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. “Jalen entered our program with a plan and put in the work to turn his dream into a reality. To be selected in the top 10 makes it that much more special. I have no doubt Jalen is destined for great things and can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future.”
As a freshman, Smith played alongside forward Bruno Fernando, now with the Atlanta Hawks, who often carried the load when Maryland needed a dominant force in the paint. Fernando left for the NBA after the 2018-19 season, but Smith decided against testing the NBA draft waters. He returned to College Park and quickly shifted his focus toward the offseason work.
While Smith showed flashes of his potential as a freshman, he became a consistent performer for the Terps during his second collegiate season. In 31 games, Smith’s production only dipped below 10 points on three occasions. He scored at least 15 points in 18 games. Maryland had some depth concerns at the center position, but Smith’s ability to stay out of foul trouble kept that from becoming a major issue.
Smith, as well as senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., led the Terps to the top of the Big Ten last season, which was the first time Maryland won a share of a conference title since 2010, and Smith played an integral role in several key wins.
On the road against Indiana, Smith scored the go-ahead layup with 14 seconds left in the game. Moments later, when Trayce Jackson-Davis missed what could have been the Hoosiers’ game-winning shot, Smith tapped the ball away to eliminate the chance for a tip-in. Against the Hoosiers, Smith scored a career-high 29 points. When the Terps fell into a 14-point halftime deficit at Northwestern, Smith scored 21 points in the second half to push Maryland ahead. Smith preserved Maryland’s win over Nebraska when he blocked what could have been Nebraska’s game-winning layup with five seconds left.
The Terps have had four players drafted in the past three years — Fernando (second round in 2019), Kevin Huerter (first round in 2018) and Justin Jackson (second round in 2018). All four of these players left the program after their sophomore seasons. Cowan, who started 130 consecutive games for the Terps and was a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a senior last season, will hope to find his landing spot as an undrafted free agent.