Maryland basketball player preview: DeShawn Harris-Smith

Impact freshmen are a hot commodity in the Big Ten conference. For Maryland, incoming top-40 combo guard DeShawn Harris-Smith will have the opportunity to generate a lot of buzz in his first year in College Park.

Harris-Smith, who was named Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year for the 2022-23 season, enters the fold in head coach Kevin Willard’s second season at the helm with the potential to be an immediate scoring threat from day one.

The Paul VI guard poured in 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and over six assists per game this past season, and his all-around floor game and consistent effort have scouts and coaches projecting a big first season out of the lefty guard.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and over 200 pounds, his blend of strength and athleticism makes him tough to plan for on the defensive end.

The addition of his skillset to a backcourt that already features 2022-23 All-Big Ten Second Team selection Jahmir Young gives the Terps one of the best one-two punches in the conference.

He has shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter, but his major asset is his ability to get to the rim with ease. His athletic ability and motor are intangibles that have opened the eyes of many, including his head coach.

“I have high expectations for him, but he’s still going to be a freshman in the Big Ten,” Willard told College Hoops Today about Harris-Smith in July. “He’s shown a great work ethic and a great ability to pick up schemes. As long as he keeps working hard, the sky’s the limit.”

Fast forward to Big Ten media day and Willard’s tone was drastically more optimistic with practices underway.

“Our freshman class, it’s the best freshman class I’ve ever had. DeShawn Harris-Smith is by far the most talented player, probably the most physically gifted basketball player I’ve ever been able to coach so far,” Willard said when asked about his freshmen class.

The backcourt pair of Harris-Smith and Young has the potential to be one of the more dynamic scoring duos in the conference.

Young, who averaged nearly 16 points in his first season at Maryland in 2022-23, did the bulk of the heavy lifting offensively for the Terps. With Harris-Smith’s ability to work both on and off the ball alongside Young, the two will feed off each other which should result in more open shots on both sides.

It is difficult to thrust a freshman into such a difficult and talented conference like the Big Ten and expect immediate results, but it appears as though Harris-Smith is levels above the average newcomer.

“He has a level of toughness that most freshmen don’t get until they’re sophomores,” Willard said. “He’s got that mentality that he wants to be great.”

The fact that Harris-Smith has the presence of Young, a veteran guard who has a full season of Big Ten play under his belt, will only help his growth and development as the season goes on.

After starting four seniors in the 2022-23 season, Maryland will enter this season as a relatively younger bunch. The departures of Hakim Hart, Donald Carey, and Ian Martinez means that there are a lot of minutes up for grabs.

The foursome of Harris-Smith, Young, Julian Reese and Donta Scott are almost givens to earn the majority of playing time in the starting lineup, with incoming freshman Jamie Kaiser Jr. slotted to fill the vacant small-forward role.

The blend of experience and youth will have the chance to benefit Harris-Smith early on and give him a chance to gain experience on the college level during non-conference play. 

The excitement surrounding Harris-Smith and this Maryland team is palpable, and the success of the 2023-24 season will be largely due to his performance. Here are three benchmarks that he can aim for in his freshman season:

1. Stay grounded

As mentioned, Harris-Smith is one of the most talented incoming freshmen in the conference and country. There are many expectations that surround a player of his caliber, and with those expectations comes a need for results.

While he has all of the intangibles and requisites of an impactful starting guard and potential lottery pick, he will have to remain grounded during his highs and lows throughout the season.

The Big Ten conference is relentless and is littered with tough guards. Each opponent poses a challenge, one that Harris-Smith will need to be prepared for on a nightly basis.

A grounded mindset will allow him to stay within himself and not let any outside chatter impact his play. Entering college as a consensus 4-star and potential lottery pick comes with a lot of pressure. His ability to block out the noise will be crucial to his success.

2. Utilize Jahmir Young

Regardless of the preseason hype of Harris-Smith, the majority of the early-season attention will be given to Jahmir Young.

The 2022-23 All-Big Ten Second Team selection had a breakout year for the Terps in his first year in College Park. His skillset has put the conference on notice, which gives Harris-Smith an opportunity for an offensive advantage with less defensive pressure.

The scoring threat of both players will result in more open looks for the duo as defenses are forced to focus on them, but Harris-Smith has a chance to showcase his talent in the early portion of the season before defenses become aware of his skillset.

The two will have a chance to feed off each other as one of the best duos in the conference.

3. Attack the basket

One of the biggest assets of Harris-Smith’s game is his ability to attack the basket and slash. Maintaining a relentless mindset and willingness to play to his strengths on the interior will be crucial to his development and success.

Although he is a capable perimeter shooter, he will need to establish his all-floor game from the start to ensure the attention of opposing defenses.

Maryland struggled as a team from three-point range in the 2022-23 season, so his ability to draw defenders away from the perimeter could allow for more open looks for shooters.

With the season inching closer, the excitement surrounding Harris-Smith and this Maryland team has grown, with him and the Terps a chance to make noise in the 2023-24 campaign.

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