Ex-Maryland players Richaud Pack, Evan Smotrycz remain tight as they both play in Cyprus

Which two recent Terps basketball players are both playing in Cyprus?

More than 5,500 miles from College Park, two former Maryland basketball teammates are following the No. 4 Terps as they start their professional careers in a place that is equal parts island paradise and remote minor league.

Richaud Pack and Evan Smotrycz, whose friendship began when they played together last season, are enjoying their life in Nicosia, the capital and the largest city in Cyprus, and their roles on rival clubs in the small country's eight-team professional circuit.

The unusual circumstance of the two landing in the same country and living "about 10 minutes apart" has made the ex-Terps even closer than they were in college.

"Me and Ev hang out almost every day," Pack said in an interview last week.

Pack, who transferred to Maryland last year after graduating from North Carolina A&T, is starting at shooting guard for Etha and averaging 16 points a game. He is coming off a season-best 34-point performance against a team that includes another former Terp, Parrish Brown, who signed recently with AEK.

Though Pack had never even heard of Brown before he arrived in Cyprus, Pack saw that he had played for Gary Williams a decade ago and started to introduce himself right before the opening tip of a game that Brown's team won. But Brown knew all about Pack's connection to Maryland.

"The moment he got on the court, he looked over and said, 'Terps in Cyprus,' " Pack recalled.

Pack said he had a number of offers after finishing his much-traveled college career at Maryland, but picked Etha for a number of reasons. Nearly finished with his master's in finance, Pack looked at it as more an investment in his basketball future.

"I pretty much bet on myself coming here, because I didn't take the biggest contract or the nicest place to live. I picked the best opportunity, and this was the team that was playing Euro Cup," Pack said. "I always wanted to be part of that because that's something you can put on your resume as your career moves forward."

Pack also saw another chance to play shooting guard — or at least shoot more than he did last season when he was brought in initially to back up then-freshman Melo Trimble at the point and Dez Wells at shooting guard.

Partly because of Wells' early-season injury, Pack wound up starting all but eight games. The 6-foot-3 guard developed into one of the team's leaders off the court, hit his share of big shots and became one of Maryland's best defenders while averaging 5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 25.7 minutes a game.

"I wanted to get back to scoring, playing more of my natural game," said Pack, who averaged 17 points a game as a junior at North Carolina A&T after playing his first two seasons at Florida International. "It's been working out so far. I've been shooting the ball pretty well."

Pack said living abroad has been an interesting experience.

"It's a really calm country, but it's kind of a tense situation because the Turkish came in [back in 1963] and took half the island" from Greece, Pack said. "With Greece going through everything economically, it's affected Cyprus. But the weather is beautiful, the water is warm. It's pretty nice."

Smotrycz, who played two seasons at Maryland after transferring from Michigan, said he is "adjusting well" to both the European game and the city of about 300,000, but that life is not simply a beach vacation on Cyprus.

"I am lucky to be in a place that has great weather, food, and has a good respected league," Smotrycz wrote in an email Sunday. "I wouldn't say it was ever a paid vacation, from the day I got off the plane it has been two practices a day every day with one day off a week.

"The fact that I am a short drive from the Mediterranean Sea, makes what little down time I do have much more enjoyable. Being far from home on Christmas is tough, but it does help that it is 70-plus degrees here in December, so it doesn't feel like Christmas as much as it would in the States."

After seeing the start of his senior year delayed by a broken foot in the preseason, disrupted briefly by a sprained knee and later hampered by a hairline fracture of the thumb on his shooting hand, Smotrycz went from averaging 11 points and six rebounds in 28 minutes a game as a junior to 4.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19 minutes.

Healthy again, Smotrycz is averaging more than 17 points and seven rebounds (fifth in the league) in a little over 25 minutes a game off the bench for Keravnos, currently tied for first place with a 6-1 record. He is also shooting 56 percent from 3-point range after barely shooting half that (29 percent) because of his injuries and lost confidence last season.

"Being healthy finally is a great feeling," Smotrycz wrote. Being injured "was definitely not the ideal way to go through the season last year. I think the way I am playing now is largely due to the fact that I am healthy, and also a result of the work that I put in over the summer."

The pace of the game is also to the 6-9, 230-pound forward's liking.

"I like the fact that there are more possessions and you don't have to grind it out for 35 seconds on defense like you would against Virginia for example," he wrote. "The league here does really stress defense, though. Teams usually score between 50 to 70, so it isn't as run-and-gun as the D-League. … I think I can play well in any style of play, but it is a lot different from the college game."

Pack said the league they play in is geared to perimeter shooting, and Smotrycz's ability as a 3-point shooter seems more at home in a European-style league than in the U.S. college game.

"Evan's over here balling. He's a prototypical European big man," Pack said. "Picking and popping, being able to read a lot of plays. The game's a lot less athletic over here. You don't have a lot of guys running 100 miles an hour dunking everywhere. The guys who have played over here for a long time say that Evan is going to make a lot of money in Europe."

Pack said he and some of his former teammates — as well as new Terps favorite Rasheed Sulaimon — have "done a great job of staying in touch" and he has watched "about five games" of his former team this season.

"I've gotten up a few times around 4 in the morning," Pack said. "I've been trying to make an effort to watch as many games as I can. They're just getting better and better."

Pack is pretty honest about how much playing time he would get if he were still eligible.

"I'd probably play about three minutes a game this year," he said.

Smotrycz concedes that he has caught some highlights, but he hasn't gone as far as Pack in terms of watching the games live.

"The time difference [seven hours ahead] kills me," Smotrycz wrote. "I actually don't now how Richaud has been able to do that so often."

Like Pack, Smotrycz is in the middle of getting his master's, though he isn't taking any classes online and has used some of his income to invest in real estate in the United States.

Neither is getting rich playing in Cyprus, where most teams pay their allowed American players "between $2,000 and $3,000 a month" along with providing free apartments and one car for two to share.

The season runs about six months and, depending on how long their respective teams stay in the playoffs, could end as March Madness begins.

"I hope we either win a championship or go home and watch them win one," Pack said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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