Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz commits to the Terps

College BasketballCollege SportsMichigan WolverinesMaryland TerrapinsBasketballSportsBig Ten Conference

Other than watching Juan Dixon and Steve Francis play while he was growing up, Evan Smotrycz “really had no connection” to the Maryland basketball program. 

Smotrycz wasn’t recruited by Gary Williams’ Terps or Mark Turgeon’s Texas A&M Aggies coming out of New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire in 2010. But when Smotrycz decided to transfer from Michigan after his sophomore season, Turgeon was one of the first coaches to reach out to the 6-foot-9 ½, 230-pound power forward.

While Baylor, Colorado, Clemson, Kansas State, Providence, Xavier and several other high-major programs tried to enter the Smotrycz sweepstakes, something about the Terps stood out to the former four-star prospect right away. A weekend trip to College Park confirmed those initial impressions, and Smotrycz offered his commitment to Turgeon on Monday morning.

“It feels great,” Smotrycz said. “Obviously I’m really excited. I’m kind of relieved that I found a spot and can kind of focus on getting better and getting out there. … It’s obviously a big-time program and I thought it would be a good spot right off the bat.”

Said Turgeon in a news release: “He’s a stretch power forward who can really shoot the ball. He has a good feel for the game. He played a lot of minutes on a Big Ten championship team. Evan is a matchup nightmare at his position. He’s a great kid and really wants to be at Maryland. He’s another great piece to what we’re trying to put together here.”

Smotrycz’s decision to leave Michigan after a sophomore season in which he averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds was a surprise to many followers of the Wolverines’ program. While he was replaced in Michigan’s starting lineup midway through the 2011-12 season by senior guard Stu Douglass, Smotrycz continued to play a significant role in averaging more than 21 minutes per game and shooting 43 percent from 3-point range for a team that shared the Big 10 regular-season championship with Ohio State and Michigan State.

“He was going to be an integral part of a Top 10 team,” said Tim McCormick, an ESPN college basketball analyst and former Michigan standout. “And he probably would have started every game and have been the second- or third-leading scoring option. At times, I thought he was a great fit for John Beilein’s system with his ability to be a stretch power forward and knock down shots. His rebounding had really improved this year. I’m a big fan of his game. As someone that follows Michigan basketball really closely, I was disappointed.”

Smotrycz said that leaving Michigan was a “really hard decision,” but a decision he felt that he needed to make in order to “develop and push myself to … get to the next level.” Turgeon articulated a detailed plan for Smotrycz during his redshirt season. The face-up 4 will join a roster that will also feature small forward Jake Layman, power forwards Charles Mitchell and Damonte Dodd, and centers Shaquille Cleare and Alex Len. But Smotrycz’s skill-set should be utilized immediately once the 2013-14 season tips off.

“At Maryland, from what I’ve seen on film and what the coaches have shown me, obviously in the ACC they like to get out and run a little bit more,” Smotrycz said. “Just the way the coaches showed me coming off screens, picking and popping, making plays off the bounce, I feel like that would really suit my game and what I’ve been working at to get better.”

While McCormick thinks Smotrycz would have been a big part of Michigan’s future, landing at Maryland seems to be an ideal fit for the Reading, Mass., native. McCormick likened Smotrycz to Khris Middleton, a 6-foot-7 forward at Texas A&M who earned All-Big 12 honors under Turgeon in 2010-11. Both Middleton and Smotrycz are known as highly skilled offensive players that can “always improve defensively and in toughness and rebounding.” Turgeon, McCormick said, is the perfect coach to bring out those qualities in Smotrycz.

“I’m a big fan of Mark Turgeon,” McCormick said. “He is very much a defensive and toughness and rebounding coach. And those are not necessarily strengths of Evan. But I think from a developmental standpoint, that Coach Turgeon will help. Evan is a really skilled ball-player. He will take another step in his game playing for Coach Turgeon. … I think that Michigan’s loss is definitely Maryland’s gain.”

While the basketball aspect of Smotrycz’s decision was a “no-brainer,” he was interested in seeing what Maryland’s campus had to offer. Smotrycz arrived in Maryland on Saturday morning, ate lunch with several Terps players in Baltimore and had dinner in Washington. In between meals, Smotrycz met with the coaching staff, toured campus and bonded with Pe’Shon Howard, Sean Mosley, James Padgett and Ashton Pankey.

“They’re great guys and great coaches,” Smotrycz said. “Coach Turgeon has been able to take programs a long way. I was really confident in their ability. I thought they were great guys to be around.”

Smotrycz’s situation at Maryland will be different than what he went through at Michigan. With the Wolverines, he was a young player waiting his turn to star on a team that made two-straight NCAA tournament appearances. With the Terps, Smotrycz will likely be counted on to use that experience and lead Maryland back to the postseason. It’s a role Smotrycz said he can’t wait to play.

“I think it’ll be huge,” he said. “It was like recruiting all over for me again. The stuff I know at 20 years old vs. 15 years old is so much different. I think being sort of the veteran on what will be a young team will definitely be a different situation for me, and I think it will be positive.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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