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Maryland’s Jalen Smith picked No. 10 overall by Phoenix Suns in NBA draft: ‘I just can’t wait to get started’

After carving out an All-American career in high school and college, Jalen Smith is Maryland’s latest NBA draft pick.

The former Mount Saint Joseph and Maryland star was drafted No. 10 overall by the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, becoming the Terps’ third draft pick in as many years and the program’s sixth since 2016.

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Smith watched the draft alongside family, friends and coaches in Columbia, waiting for NBA commissioner Adam Silver to announce his name. He didn’t have to wait long.

The 20-year-old Baltimore native will join a team on the rise in the Western Conference, with Phoenix recently trading for 10-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul to pair with young stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. The Suns nearly made the playoffs after the league restarted in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, finishing with a record of 34-39, their most wins since the 2014-15 season.

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“Being a lottery pick, that’s what everyone aims for. But being drafted into the right situation is what’s most important,” Smith said. “And I feel as though this is the best situation for me, to learn from guards like Chris Paul, Devin Booker, learn from Deandre Ayton and all the other guys and just be able to find my role and just mesh with it. I’m excited and I just can’t wait to get started.”

Smith, a five-star recruit in the Class of 2018, averaged 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in an impressive freshman campaign. He returned to College Park for his sophomore season as the focal point of a frontcourt vacated by Bruno Fernando, who opted to enter the 2019 draft and was selected in the second round. Nicknamed “Stix” in high school for his slender frame, he gained 30 pounds during his time in Maryland, with his bench press rocketing up to a team-high 280 pounds during the 2019 offseason.

In his second season, Smith improved his per-game averages in points (15.5), rebounds (10.5) and blocks (2.4), along with his shooting percentages, leading Maryland to its first-ever Big Ten regular-season title. He also received All-American and All-Big Ten honors, recorded the third most double doubles in the country (21) and was the only NCAA player to record at least 60 blocks and 30 3-pointers. He announced in April that he would forego his remaining eligibility to declare for the NBA draft.

“I couldn’t be happier for Jalen and his family tonight,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement. “Jalen entered our program with a plan and put in the work to turn his dream into a reality. To be selected in the top-10 makes it that much more special. I have no doubt Jalen is destined for great things and can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future.”

Questions arose about Smith’s physicality and ability to move in space, but his sharpshooting and ability to block shots for a big in today’s NBA solidified his status as a top-10 pick. Most experts predicted Smith would be taken outside the lottery, with some even giving the 6-foot-10, 225-pound star a second-round grade.

After Maryland’s season was cut short in March when the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Smith had to wait nearly nine months to hear his name called Wednesday night. There was no NBA scouting combine, a crucial event for players to impress scouts and meet with interested teams. All meetings and workouts had to be done virtually. The draft, pushed back from its annual spot in June as the NBA finished its season in Orlando, was held virtually at ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut.

“It was tough, nine straight months of working out without knowing any dates,” said Smith, who told Phoenix reporters that he did two Zoom meetings with the Suns and an in-person workout with general manager James Jones and coach Monty Williams. “But at the end of the day, it worked out for me because I got to work on my body. I got to work on my game a lot more and I just have to continue to evolve. And it got me here so I’m happy for it.”

Smith is the highest Terps draft pick since Alex Len was taken fifth overall in 2015 by the Suns. Kevin Huerter was the most recent first-round pick, going No. 19 overall to the Atlanta Hawks in 2018. Bruno Fernando (34th overall in 2019 to Philadelphia Sixers, traded to Hawks), Justin Jackson (43rd overall in 2018 to Denver Nuggets, traded to Orlando Magic), Diamond Stone (40th overall in 2016 to New Orleans Pelicans, traded to Los Angeles Clippers) and Jake Layman (47th overall in 2016 to Magic, traded to Portland Trail Blazers) were all second-round picks.

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