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Mount St. Joseph's Jalen Smith Among Three Terps Basketball Signees

November 9, 2017
Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala signed letters of intent to play for the Maryland men's basketball program starting in the 2018-19 season, the Terps announced Nov. 8.

All three players had already announced their commitment to Maryland -- Smith and Wiggins in June, Ayala in October -- but couldn't sign until the early signing period that runs from Nov. 8-15 this year.

"I'm thrilled and excited to welcome Jalen, Aaron and Eric to our Maryland basketball family," Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said in a release. "They are three tremendous young men who are going to make outstanding contributions to both our program and University. I'm eager to begin working with them. I'm proud of the efforts of our coaching staff as they've identified three special student-athletes with high character who will fit well within our program's culture."

Smith, a 6-foot-10 power forward out of Baltimore, is about to begin his senior season at Mount St. Joseph. Smith and former Gaels teammate and current Terps guard Darryl Morsell led the team to the MIAA 'A' Conference and Baltimore Catholic League titles last season. Smith was named The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Co-Player of the Year last season, during which he averaged 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game.

Smith took his game to another level this summer with Team Takeover, a Nike-sponsored AAU team based in Washington, D.C. Smith was the best player on the court for Takeover's 17-and-under squad, which included several other future high-major players such as Brandon Slater (Villanova), Myles Dread (Penn State) and Bryce Golden (Pittsburgh). 

Smith averaged 13.9 points and nine rebounds per game in eight Peach Jam contests in July, which was highlighted by a 20-point, 11-rebound game that helped lift Takeover into the title game. Later in July,  Takeover played in Las Vegas, where Smith had a monster sequence that showed off some of his skill set: an ability to get to the basket off the bounce, run the floor and protect the rim. 

Wiggins, a 6-foot-6 wing out of North Carolina, is beginning his senior season at Wesleyan Christian Academy (N.C.), which is coached by former Terp Keith Gatlin. Wiggins played his AAU ball for Team Charlotte, an Under Armour-sponsored team based in North Carolina. Former Terps target Devon Dotson, a point guard who committed to Kansas in October, also played for Team Charlotte.

Wiggins averaged 14.7 points on 45-percent shooting (and 37 percent from 3-point range) for Charlotte's 17-and-under team this spring and summer, according to the Under Armour Association's website. He also posted 3.7 rebounds per game. Wiggins is well-regarded as a polished scorer, as he can  shoot and score in isolation

Ayala, a 6-foot-5 combo guard out of Wilmington, Del., is spending a post-graduate year at IMG Academy (Fla.) for the 2017-18 season. Ayala spent his first two years of high school at Sanford School in Delaware, then the next two at Putnam Science Academy (Conn.), where he graduated this spring. 

Ayala played his AAU ball for WeR1, an Under-Armour sponsored team out of Delaware. Ayala's 17-and-under team won the Under Armour Association championship the past two summers. WeR1 beat Team Charlotte in the title game this summer, with Ayala scoring 17 points and Wiggins scoring 11.

Ayala averaged 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for WeR1 this spring and summer, according to UAA's website. He shot 42 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range. Ayala, who can play on or off the ball, is known as a hard-nosed player who drives to the basket, finishes in a variety of ways around the rim and creates contact. Ayala averaged 7.1 free throws per game for WeR1 this year, easily the most on his team.

Ayala is also interested in bringing aboard 7-foot center  Moses Brown, his friend from the Under Armour circuit and consensus five-star recruit. Maryland appeared to lead in Brown's recruitment throughout the summer and much of the fall, but Kentucky recently rekindled its interest in Brown, who now appears to be waiting on an  offer from the Wildcats

Other Maryland targets include five-star wing Keldon Johnson out of Virginia and four-star wing Jairus Hamilton out of North Carolina. Johnson is down to Maryland, Kentucky, Texas and N.C. State, but is expected to announce Nov. 11 that he's signing with Kentucky. Hamilton visited Maryland Oct. 13-15, but a timetable for his decision is not yet known. He most recently visited Mississippi State Oct. 20-22. 

Turgeon still has two scholarships available heading into the 2018-19 season, plus a third if sophomore Justin Jackson enters the NBA Draft this spring. Expect Turgeon and his staff to regroup and find other solutions later in this recruiting cycle if their top remaining targets choose other schools. For example, Jackson and redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic didn't commit to Maryland until late last spring.

As for Smith, Wiggins and Ayala, all three players should compete for playing time as freshmen. Senior big men Michal Cekovsky and Sean Obi will depart after this season, leaving just three other scholarship big men in Bruno Fernando, Ivan Bender and Tomaic. Smith should compete to start at power forward next season.

Senior wing Jared Nickens will also depart. That leaves plenty of available minutes on the wing for Wiggins to earn. Ayala should also see early minutes, as sophomore Anthony Cowan is the only point guard currently on the roster.
Comments from Smith, Wiggins and Ayala and the people closest to them can be found in  Maryland's release announcing their signings

Photo Credit: Wick Eisenberg/PressBox