Eluding compliments and foes, Smith soars early for 4-0 Terps

Emerging go-to center lets his play do his talking

December 06, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Jamar Smith might be performing like a star for the Maryland Terrapins these days, but you won't catch the 6-foot-9 center promoting himself.

Minutes after he dragged the Terps to an overtime victory against No. 15 Wisconsin on Tuesday with his best game in a Maryland uniform, Smith fidgeted and deflected praise while facing a parade of media interviews at his locker.

But after Smith's season-opening salvo in Maryland's 4-0 start, after he scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, after he finished the Badgers with six points in overtime, after he posted his fourth consecutive double double, the questions are following him.

Has Smith, the second-year senior who cut his collegiate teeth at the junior college powerhouse Allegany College, begun to sharpen the identity of an extremely young team? Has he started to become one of its leaders? Is he Maryland's go-to guy?

"I guess so, but I don't look at myself like that," Smith said. "I look at myself as one of the guys on the team out there trying to do whatever I can to help get us a win. I hate losing, and I know everybody in this locker room hates losing."

Smith, a lean, 239-pound player with guard-like quickness and the leaping ability that recalls shades of Chris Wilcox, would rather let his game talk for him. His play has spoken volumes lately.

He is averaging a team-high 17.3 points and he leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with 11.8 rebounds per game, including 5.8 on the offensive glass. He has led the Terps in rebounding in every game. He is averaging a team-high 34.5 minutes, is improving his shot and is giving opposing big men fits with his athleticism.

Smith, who plays center and power forward - interchangeable positions in coach Gary Williams' flex offense - has been given some freedom to wander in the Maryland system. Smith might post up a defender down low and look for a layup, or shoot a pull-up or fadeaway jumper from medium range, or slide outside to launch a three-pointer.

Against Wisconsin, easily Maryland's toughest test to date, Smith did it all during his best shooting night of the young season, a 10-for-18 display. And in the end, his quick first step and power on the blocks was unstoppable, as he manhandled the Badgers in crunch time.

"Jamar is 6-9, he's extremely strong and he's a senior. He played against big guys in big games in junior college before he got here," Maryland sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley said. "There are going to be nights like [Tuesday] when all we have to do is get the ball to Jamar."

"It's a tricky matchup going up against [Smith]. He's not a one-dimensional player, not an old-school post player," added point guard John Gilchrist, who fed Smith steadily during a nine-assist performance against Wisconsin.

"During practice, we see how Jamar shows he has NBA-caliber talent. If the team needs more of an inside player, we're going to call plays for him and pound the ball down low. Establishing that good inside game isn't going to do anything but make it easier for everything to open up on the perimeter."

Smith paid his dues a year ago, after coming from Cumberland to College Park and adjusting to the ACC as a backup center behind former Allegany teammate Ryan Randle. First, he had to get used to Williams' demanding ways in practice. Then, there was the matter of adapting to the bigger, stronger matchups he encountered, compared to his days as a first-team NJCAA All-American.

Smith averaged 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14 minutes for Maryland. He had flashes of greatness, such as his 10-rebound effort in a victory over North Carolina State on Jan. 30, or his 12-point effort on 6-for-6 shooting in a win over Xavier in the NCAA tournament.

Williams said he saw a more serious, studious side of Smith emerge during the preseason. Smith, who typically has played well in spurts, defined it with his 40-minute show Tuesday, when he committed just two fouls.

"[Smith] had to pace himself. He did a very good job of staying out of foul trouble and still finding ways to score," Williams said. "Hopefully, we found out that getting the ball inside is a good thing.

"He's been on an upgrade for the past month. He realizes he's a senior and this is his shot," Williams said. "I like guys who step up with the way they approach the game. Jamar doesn't say much. He leads by example. I like that."

Smith is fully aware of his talent, and fully aware that his shining night against Wisconsin means nothing today against Gonzaga. It's all about doing it game after game.

"It's hard for big guys to defend me because of my quickness. It's a lot of trouble for our opponents," Smith said. "I'd say [Wisconsin] is the best game I've played at Maryland so far, but there is more to come."

BB&T Classic

Site: MCI Center, Washington

Today's first semifinal: George Washington (4-1) vs. West Virginia (2-1), 1 p.m.

Today's second semifinal: No. 17 Gonzaga (4-1) vs. Maryland (4-0), 3:30 p.m.

Tomorrow's consolation: 3 p.m.

Tomorrow's final: 5:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: All games on Ch. 54. Both Maryland games on WBAL (1090 AM)

Smith's numbers

Senior center Jamar Smith has achieved double figures in points and rebounds in each of Maryland's four games this season:

Opponent Pts Rebs Result

American 14 12 W, 79-48

G. Mason 19 13 W, 79-64

Hofstra 11 10 W, 87-72

Wisconsin 25 12 W, 73-67

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