For former Terp Smith, more forward progress Busy homecoming includes 15 points, 8 rebounds

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LANDOVER -- In town for last night's game with the Washington Bullets, Joe Smith wanted to make the most of his return home. The former Terrapin stopped by for the last few minutes of Maryland's practice yesterday, talking with his old teammates and coach Gary Williams.

He then drew a loud applause at USAir Arena last night before scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds, despite a bruised right hip, in the Warriors' 115-94 loss to the Bullets. Afterward, he spent time with friends and family members up from Norfolk, Va.

"It's great to be back in the area," Smith said. "I'm very excited. It gives me a chance to play in front of the home crowd again."

He says every night learning how to play in the NBA is a RTC struggle, but teammates and Warriors coach Rick Adelman say they see improvement.

"He's been really solid. He's going to be a tremendous player," Adelman said. "For his age, he's such a mature man. If he has a good or bad game, you never know it."

Smith has shown flashes of what's to come. He led the Warriors with 27 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Bullets last week. Last night, he was brilliant at times, scoring nine points in the first quarter, including a first-quarter put-back dunk with his left hand.

"I was surprised that he can go left or right and score either way," Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell said. "He's very athletic and has fit in well."

Williams knows how well Smith would have fit in with this year's Maryland squad.

"I'd like to take him back, just for a couple of months," Williams said jokingly. "I've just seen him on TV a couple of times, and he looks good."

Smith, who suffered a hip injury Tuesday night, stayed and talked with his former teammates after practice and Williams had front-row seats for the game.

Asked whether any Terrapins would be attending the game, Williams said: "They can come if they buy tickets. Anybody in the United States can come if they buy tickets."

A few months and a few more million dollars after playing for Williams, Smith has not changed. The easygoing laugh still is there, as is the hard-playing style. His mother lives with him in California, prepares all his meals and wakes him each morning.

"The only difference is that I have a little more money," Smith said with a laugh.

He is trying to put on about 15 more pounds, which will get tougher next year when his mother moves back to Norfolk, Va.

"I'm going to have to learn how to cook and clean, and I've never done any of that," Smith said.

For now, he's content cleaning up on the court. Adelman says he has intended to increase Smith's role gradually -- but that his play has accelerated that schedule.

"We've tried to say we're not going to make him the go-to guy," the coach said.

He may not be the go-to guy yet, but yesterday he was certainly on the go.

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