Kevin Willard on DeShawn Harris-Smith’s impact, rotations and role adjustments

After eleven players saw the court in Tuesday’s win over Mount St. Mary’s, the Asheville Tournament could serve as the first chance for a tighter rotation as head coach Kevin Willard looks to solidify roles and minutes along the roster.

“I think more than anything, just try to get our rotations down, get a little bit more comfortable playing with nine, ten, 11 guys out there. I think that’s the biggest thing that it’s kind of, obviously it’s a weird time to jump into a tournament, but more than anything, try to get our rotations down a little bit, a little tighter,” Willard said Thursday.

“More important I think it’ll just give them a little bit more sense of being comfortable and understanding what the role is because that’s still a little bit up in the air.”

While he added the players “know what they need to do when they’re out there,” this weekend’s first matchup against Davidson could draw Jamie Kaiser Jr. as the fifth starter with a more advantageous matchup against the Wildcats’ starting five. While fans await to see how the Terps fare against elevated competition beginning Friday night, there’s little doubt that DeShawn Harris-Smith will be a big part in the Terps’ plans for success after following up his solidified starting spot with a dazzling debut inside Xfinity.

On the offensive end, Harris-Smith kicked off his scoring with a putback layup off Jahmir Young’s miss, ending the night with 12 points as one of three Terps in double figures. But it was Harris-Smith’s efforts on the defensive end that impressed head coach Kevin Willard most after the freshman guard posted a pair of steals within the first four minutes, followed by a block ahead of the first TV timeout.

“I thought his defensive intensity was great. I thought the fact that we’re not an easy defensive team. We’re kind of complicated at times,” Willard said Thursday. “I think he’s handling schemes tremendously. So I love the fact that he defensively, I thought he was one of the better out there.”

Of course, Harris-Smith was the jewel of Maryland’s 2023 class as the former PVI star opted for the Terps over Villanova and Indiana among others. As the PVI squad sat in stands to watch Harris-Smith’s debut, Willard noted the chance for the local star to suit up for the local school.

“I think it’s important. Back when I played, having your family there and having your friends was really important. It was nice. It’s a support group. You have a built in, if you don’t play well, you have family there to help you. If you do play well, you have family there to buy you dinner. I think it’s what’s really cool about staying home and playing at home is the fact that, you know, once you leave college you’re never with your family ever again, I don’t care what people say. You move on. You go so many different places in life, especially with this sport. These guys, if you get to the NBA, if you get to Europe, you spend, you have a 13 year career, you’re never home again. So this is their really last opportunity to be with friends and family. And I think it’s something special. I think every guy that’s ever played and stayed home will say that this is the best decision they’ve made because once you leave, you’re gone. It’s just the way it is.”

More from Willard heading into Friday’s tipoff.

On whether guys feed on Harris-Smith’s defensive impact

“I think he picks it up, though, from Jahmir, Donta. I mean, those guys brought it all last year. So I think him watching those guys last year, I think he understood and understands what how he has to play. I think that’s a great thing about playing with older guys and especially as much as he was around last year, kind of seeing how Jahmir played, how Donta played and the level and how hard they played.”

On the benefit on playing in an early season tournament for younger guys

“We went to Italy so I think that that helped and we also played at…Pittsburgh. So they kind of have a good feeling already. There’s not too many benefits of an early season tournament this early. So I think the biggest thing is just having the opportunity to play three really good teams technically.”

On scheduling Power Five opponents early in the season

“I think I scheduling, there’s an art to scheduling. I think you really got to balance out who your team is year in year out, even though now it’s always a little bit differently. I think jumping in right away with so many new guys is tough but it will give us a good barometer of where we are. So Davidson’s excellent. They shoot the basketball. They rebound the basketball at a high level.  They’re a lot longer and athletic than they were last year, so it’s a good test for us early.”

On whether two games in three days impacts the rotation

“I have a good feeling of what the rotations is. I just don’t think the players have a good feel and they haven’t played with each other in pressure situations just because of injuries. I have a good feeling what the rotations are. It’s just getting the players comfortable and getting the guys on the floor comfortable with each other because they haven’t played that much together.”

On three consecutive games away from home

“I don’t know yet. We haven’t moved forward enough. I’ll find out after these games. I mean, it’s hard to predict how it’s going to affect us until we go through it. That’s a good question after these three games.”

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