Smith's college days over

For those holding any hope of Joe Smith spurning the NBA team that drafts him and returning to Maryland next season, here's a word of advice: Move on to the next fantasy.

Smith's amazing two-year career in College Park officially came to an end early yesterday morning, when the All-America center signed with an agent, former Terrapins star Len Elmore. The agreement with Elmore to represent Smith took place at the player's home in Norfolk, Va.


Under current NCAA rules, an underclassman who declares for early eligibility with the NBA has until 30 days after the draft to return to college as long as he doesn't sign with an agent. Smith announced last month that he would give up his final two years of eligibility to turn pro.

The agreement between Smith and Elmore's Columbia-based sports management firm, Precept Sports and Entertainment, Inc., ended a recruiting battle that began midway through the player's freshman season and was engaged in by some of the most high-profile agents in the country.


Elmore's low-key approach during the process eventually gained the confidence of Smith, his mother, Letha, and several other members of their close-knit family. Those familiar with the situation say that it was Joe Smith who ultimately made the decision.

"I feel very comfortable with Len," said Smith, who met Elmore on his recruiting visit to Maryland three years ago. "He's a straightforward person. He tells you the truth. He doesn't tell you what you want to hear, he tells you what you need to hear."

One of the things Elmore has told Smith is that he should finish the requirements for his undergraduate degree at Maryland. Smith has more than two years of credits remaining, and likely will not start taking classes again until next summer.

"That's something we've tried to stress with Joe and his mom, as we've done with all our guys," said Elmore.

Smith, who won't turn 20 until late July, becomes the second Maryland star in recent years to hire Elmore as his agent, following Walt Williams in 1992. Elmore, a Harvard Law School graduate who spent 10 years playing professional basketball, represents a number of up-and-coming NBA players, including Williams, who just finished his third year with Sacramento Kings; former Dunbar star Sam Cassell of the Houston Rockets, Terry Dehere of the Los Angeles Clippers and Harold Miner of the Miami Heat.

Elmore also recently signed another former Atlantic Coast Conference star, Wake Forest All-America guard Randolph Childress. But Smith is certainly considered the biggest client for Elmore, who beat out more well-known agents such as David Falk and larger, more established firms such as ProServ for a player most expect to be among the top three picks in next month's draft.

"Obviously, the bottom line is, Joe and his family felt confident that we're going to get the job done or else we wouldn't be here," said Elmore.

Where Smith will likely wind up could become a little clearer on Sunday, when the NBA holds its draft lottery. But no matter which team picks Smith, Elmore believes that his client's popularity as a college player will translate into marketability as a pro.


"We envision Joe to be a pretty interesting spokesman," said Elmore. "There is a certain charisma about him. You've heard it so often, 'He's no ordinary Joe.' "

Elmore said that he and Smith were headed last night to Beaverton, Ore., to speak with officials at Nike regarding a possible sneaker contract. Elmore also said that Fila, the Italian sportswear company that has its main U.S. plant in Hunt Valley, has held preliminary discussions with the Smith family regarding a possible endorsement deal.

Smith's decision to hire an agent before the draft did not come as a surprise to Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"Once, he [Smith] knew he was going to be in the top three or four players, we figured he would do that."

Elmore plans to put Smith on a training regimen similar to the one he has set up for some of his other clients. Smith said he will move back to Prince George's County later this week and will continue working out with players such as Williams and Childress this summer.

"The only thing I'm nervous about is the draft," said Smith. "Everything else feels like a weight's been taken off my shoulders."


NOTES: It was announced that Brian Watkins, a 6-9, 214-pound forward from Nashville, Tenn., has transferred to Maryland from Notre Dame. Watkins, who chose the Fighting Irish over the Terps coming out of high school, averaged 1.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in a little over six minutes a game as a freshman. He will sit out next season and have three years of eligibility remaining.