the April 11 addition
of four-star (
) combo guard Serrel Smith from Florida's St. Petersburg High School, the Maryland men's basketball team's incoming 2018 recruiting class is now ranked as the seventh-best in the country by 247Sports.com.
Smith joins center Jalen Smith (Mount St. Joseph) and guards Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins in the class, which now faces lofty expectations at a school that has advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament just once in seven years under head coach Mark Turgeon.
So how is Serrel Smith handling such high expectations? By simultaneously denying they exist and also somehow raising them.
"I wouldn't say it's high expectations," Smith said in a
Glenn Clark Radio
interview April 13. "We got to come in and do what we do best and do what they saw when they recruited us. Come in, work, win, get in the Final Four."
The Final Four? That's territory the Terps haven't reached in more than a decade and a half. Smith understands that the drought dates back to 2002, but he welcomes the opportunity to snap the program's funk.
"We got to change that," Smith said directly.
Maryland wasn't the expected landing spot for Smith. He first committed to Ole Miss but backed out after head coach Andy Kennedy resigned in February. At that moment, the Terps pounced on the opportunity to land the prolific high school scorer.
"As soon as I got my release they've just been calling, texting every day saying, 'We need to get you on a visit,'" Smith said. "And I love the campus. … College Park, [Md.,] is just amazing. Real big campus, lot of new stuff, lot of new buildings, it's just amazing."
There were no real connections between Smith and the school -- or even the region in general. In fact, Smith had never even stepped foot in the state before taking his official visit to campus. But he was impressed with the campus and drawn to other aspects of the opportunity -- especially his new teammates.
"I got to know [point guard] Anthony [Cowan Jr.], [forward] Kevin [Huerter], center Bruno [Fernando], all very cool guys," Smith said. "We hung out; I just sort of vibed with them. I can see myself hanging with them for the next four years."
Smith said he wouldn't attempt to influence Fernando's ultimate NBA decision, however, "I don't think I can make his decision -- whatever he feels is best. … I hope he stays," Smith said.
Smith said he was also drawn to Maryland thanks to a connection he made with Turgeon, who was a college point guard himself with Kansas from 1983–1987
"[He's a] point guard coach; he played point guard himself, so he knows what I need to work on to get ready to go where I'm trying to go in a future life," Smith said of Turgeon. "I see him developing me well to be the point guard I want to be."
While labeled a combo guard, Smith believes playing the one could be his path to a pro career, but he admits that he's more than happy to play on ball or off ball and share the backcourt to begin his collegiate career. Either way, Smith thinks he'll mesh well with the Terps' style.
"Their style of play is very similar to my high school and what I've been comfortable playing with and my passion for playing basketball," Smith said. "The screen and rolls, the spreading the floor, attacking the basket and getting a lot of shots up -- I fit very well with their style of play."
Smith comes to Maryland with a basketball background built largely by the women in his family. His sister (Kamika Idom) played at Florida International. His cousin (Jerica Coley) also played at FUI and played for the WNBA's New York Liberty. But most notably his mother (Tamika Coley) is in the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame after setting career records for field goals and free-throws made during a career that saw her score more than 2,000 points for the Knights.
Smith recognizes the role his mother has played in his basketball development.
"Around seventh grade, I was in between basketball and football, I wasn't really sure," Smith said. "And then she told me I had to choose one or the other, so I just went ahead with basketball. And ever since then she's been in the gym almost every day working on my game."
Smith vividly remembers when he was finally able to beat his mother in a game of one-on-one, which he claims was "definitely" a big moment for him.
"Around 8th or 9th grade, summer between 8th grade going into 9th," Smith said. "She tried to make excuses saying 'I got to get back in shape,' stuff like that."
Smith averaged 29.3 points per game during his senior year of high school, but as much as he knows scoring is an area where he can help, Smith says he isn't going to try to force the issue to fill up stat sheets as a freshman.
"That's not my mentality going in," Smith said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can do to get our team to win."
For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tamika Conley