Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett has taken on Villanova and Maryland on the court during his tenure and he’s running into the two programs on the recruiting trail frequently this cycle as well. That’s true with Baltimore forward Jalen Smith, who is among the Cavaliers’ targets playing at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville this week.
In fact, the Terps, Wildcats, and Hoos all could get official visits from the Mount Saint Joseph standout. Maryland already has Smith scheduled for an official visit the weekend of June 24. He has not set dates for the other schools, pending the completion of the EYBL circuit in mid July.
”None coming up, but I’m deciding on taking a visit to Villanova and Virginia and Syracuse after Peach Jam,” Smith said.
Maryland is considered the leader in Smith’s recruitment with former high school teammate Darryl Morsell already in the fold there, but he hesitated to say that his decision could come as soon as the June visit to College Park. He does want to make his choice before the high school season starts later this year, though.
”That’s the closest one because it’s in backyard and I know a lot of people there in Maryland so it will be a fun trip,” Smith said. ”I don’t know about [a decision], I’ll probably wait out and check out the other officials and see which one is better.”
Smith is a 6’10” and 195-pound forward with some versatility on the floor. He has competed around the rim at the Top 100 Camp alongside Armando Bacot out of Richmond. Smith posted 6 points and 8 rebounds with 1 blocked shot in the camp opener and added 6 points and 7 rebounds later in the day. On Thursday, he put up 6 points and 7 rebounds in one game and 4 points, 1 rebound, and 3 steals in the evening session. He started Friday’s action with 12 points and 4 rebounds.
Smith, the Baltimore Sun Co-Player of the Year, has been working on his skill set outside the paint this offseason.
”I’ve been working out a lot lately,” Smith said. “I’m pushing the ball, dribbling, and making sure I keep a tight handle on the ball so I don’t lose it as much. My shooting’s went down lately, but I’ve just got to get it back and find the right mechanics.”
Smith showed the ability to hedge on screens defensively in camp games as well, which is important in Virginia’s system. The Cavaliers’ defense is one of the things that has caught his eye on the recruiting trail.
”I like it,” Smith said. ”It’s like a compact defense. Everybody is in help side. If one defender gets beat, the other one is right here in a matter of seconds and they always help each other and they’re always talking.”
Tony Bennett’s demeanor is something he likes about UVA as well.
”I like the program,” Smith said. ”I like the way Coach Bennett focuses on defense and when their players make mistakes, he doesn’t yell at them, he just pushes them to make better decisions the next time around.”
Smith recently spent an unofficial visit at Georgetown with its new coach Patrick Ewing. Even as a current high school player, he said he has seen Ewing highlights. He appreciated the visit with the Hoyas, though he wasn’t 100 percent sure he had an offer.
”It went well,” Smith said. ”The coaches showed me around the new basketball facility, showed me all the improvements because last time I was there, everything wasn’t done.”
In the long run, the Terps and Wildcats will be tough competition. Smith has high school teammates in both programs. He likes Maryland’s Mark Turgeon and Villanova’s Jay Wright as well.
”It’s a great school, great program,” Smith said. ”Coach Turgeon pushes everybody to their limits. I’ve got my old teammate there, Darryl Morsell, which is a big push toward me and makes me consider going there everyday.”
”It’s a great program as well. I like the way Coach Wright plays,” Smith said. ”There’s no traditional big for him. Everybody can put the ball on the floor, shoot. The other push for them is my old teammate Phil Booth is there and we’ve got a close bond together.”