New Terp Smith finds his place in sun--finally

December 01, 1990|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- He has been searching for the spotlight for a long time. In high school, he never was in one place long enough to make a lasting impression. At Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College, he spent two years waiting for his chance at the big time.

The search appears to be over for Garfield Smith.

It may have ended Wednesday night, in his second game at the University of Maryland. Smith, a junior forward from the Bronx, N.Y., scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds in a 72-59 victory over Southern Cal at Cole Field House.

"I showed that I belonged on this level," Smith said, as he was surrounded in the dressing room.

Smith's search for acceptance has ended, and, apparently, so has Maryland's hunt for an inside scorer and rebounder to complement guards Walt Williams and Matt Roe. It is one reason the Terrapins are 2-0 headed into today's 4 p.m. game against West Virginia (1-0) in Morgantown, W.Va.

"Garfield has been shooting the ball very well," Maryland coach Gary Williams said of Smith, whose 13-for-17 from the field includes a 9-for-10 game against the Trojans. "What he's done is take good shots, and not force things. That's the key for him so far."

It has been a long road to this point for Smith. He left Kingston, Jamaica, a week before his eighth birthday when his father moved the family to New York. He cried on the way to the airport, on the plane, and for two weeks after he reached his new home.

"I cried so much on the plane that I ruined my suit," Smith, 20,

recalled. "My father had to call Jamaica every day for a while so I could talk to somebody at home."

A year later, Smith's father bought him a basketball. Forget about soccer, the game he had grown up playing. Smith took the ball to a local park and introduced himself to some kids.

"They stole it from me a couple of days later," Smith said.

Smith went to three high schools between between his sophomore and senior years, playing at two. During his senior year, spent at Evander Childs in the Bronx, Smith played for a prominent local church team, the Riverside Hawks, featuring a guard from Queens named Kenny Anderson.

"I was considered a mid-major player, but I thought I was better than that," said Smith. "My grades weren't good, so people didn't want to take a chance on me."

So Smith took his game, if not his ball, to Coffeyville, home of the Red Ravens. It was the place at which a power forward named James "Buster" Douglas discovered that his jab was better than his jumper.

It was there that Smith, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward called "Grizzly" by some teammates, was discovered by a number of Division I coaches, including Williams. "We thought he could help us, but you never know. It's not an exact science," said Williams.

Maryland's attraction to Smith had more to do with simple math than science. The starting frontcourt from last season's 19-14 team would be gone, with Jerrod Mustaf and Tony Massenburg heading to the National Basketball Association and small forward Jesse Martin to the library to shore up his academics.

It didn't bother Smith that the Terps were going on the National Collegiate Athletic Association probation for three years, and that he wouldn't play in postseason tournaments for his two years at Maryland or on live television this season.

"I just figured the more people left, the more time I got to play and the more shots I got to take," Smith said with a smile.

Smith has toned down his game quite a bit from junior college, where he said, "I could do anything I wanted, any time I wanted." And Williams has done his part to take the JuCo out of Smith without quashing his style.

Williams compared Smith to one of his favorite players, former Boston College center and ex-Maryland assistant Roger McCready, who played center at 6-5 while taking on the likes of Patrick Ewing and Ed Pinckney.

One of Smith's and McCready's favorite moves is to come under the basket, using the backboard as a shield, and put in reverse layups. He also has shown decent range and uncanny accuracy. But rebounding is the reason Smith is starting for Maryland.

"He was our leading rebounder in the preseason scrimmages," Williams said of Smith, who had a total of 16 in two games. "I knew he could score, but I don't like to put that kind of pressure on a guy coming in. What he's done is freed up Walt and Matt for a lot of shots."

It hasn't been easy. In early practices, Smith could be seen trying to do too much, forcing the ball inside and often losing it in the process. And Williams could be seen yelling at Smith, telling him that this was not Coffeyville.

Williams and his assistants have made it clear to Smith that the most important aspect of his game was rebounding and leadership. "They want me to go in there and kick some butt," said Smith, whose game, as well as parts of his vocabulary, are evident of his New York upbringing.

Said Williams: "When a guy comes in from junior college, everybody thinks he's going to be undisciplined. That's unfair. We've talked with Garfield a lot and explained what we expected from him. He's been cooperative."

And, like Maryland, a very pleasant surprise so far.

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