When you turn on a Maryland basketball game this season, you’ll hear Kevin Harlan or whichever announcer focus on the 6-foot-10, 240-pound athletic specimen that is Terrapins forward Bruno Fernando. It makes sense…he’s a classic “first player off the bus” type who makes the highlight reel with his vicious dunks.
Against Belmont in the NCAA Tournament first round Thursday, he was pretty good, notching a double-double to help Maryland to a tight 79-77 victory. The thing is, he was outdone by the other tall Terrapins forward: Jalen Smith.
The freshman, a former 5-star out of Baltimore, led the team with 19 points while also tallying a double-double by snagging 12 rebounds. He even outdid his counterpart in the dunk department.
The 6-foot-10, 215-pounder is starting to put together his physical gifts after a solid 11.6-point, 6.8-rebound stat line this season. With more performances like the one against Belmont in this March Madness, NBA scouts may start to take notice.
Let’s look at some current draft projections.
Jalen Smith NBA Draft Projections & Mock Draft
He’s not appearing on a ton of mock drafts at the moment. Bryan Kalborsky of Hoops Hype aggregates 5 from Bleacher Report, The Athletic, SI.com, ESPN and NBA Draft Net. Smith doesn’t rank on any of them.
This is a change from the start of the season. ESPN actually saw Smith as a more viable prospect than Fernando, ranking the freshman No. 31 and the sophomore No. 75 in its top-100 rankings.
Analyst Mike Schmitz wrote this after Smith struggled versus Indiana:
Maryland freshman Jalen Smith struggled mightily in this game, bobbling the ball consistently and proving too thin to play through contact. His motor and agility are a major plus, but he’s probably a year away from maximizing his draft stock.
Tommy Beer of Forbes had Smith going No. 22 to the Indiana Pacers in late December, but also made the selection seem like a projection based on potential.
After posting impressive numbers to start the season, Smith had trouble staying on the floor in Maryland’s two most recent contests due primarily to foul trouble. He was limited to just seven points in 23 minutes vs. Purdue and then logged only 12 minutes before picking up four fouls in a win over Loyola on Saturday. Once Smith figures out how to maintain his aggressiveness without getting whistled, and grows into his frame (despite being listed at 6’10”, Smith weighs less than 200 pounds), his draft should spike.
Jalen Smith NBA Board & Draft Decision
Aran Smith of NBA Draft Net has the highest opinion of Smith, as he appears at the No. 46 spot in his Top 100 Prospects list. He did slide the freshman down 25 spots from his last update, which may change with some strong tournament showings.
I’ve been able to watch Smith twice versus Michigan, and here’s what stood out to me. Offensively, he tried to get by on athleticism alone, which led to just 8 and 11 points in consecutive contests. He didn’t have the strength to overpower Wolverine center Jon Teske, let alone stretch-4 Ignas Brazdeikis.
In the second game, he found himself limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble. That was because he had trouble dealing with Brazdeikis’ strong drives to the lane. Smith also failed to track the Michigan freshman on the perimeter, which led to Brazdeikis’ 21 points.
It leads me to think that right now, Smith is a pogo-stick with a ton of energy and hustle that needs to be harnessed. Another year in the weight room and practice, and he should build the strength and awareness to properly utilize his vast skill set.
The Belmont performance may have been a sign of that potential starting to blossom. He could climb into the second-round if he replicates that against LSU, or even higher if the Terps make a run.