BALTIMORE, Md. -- Mount St. Joseph's boys' basketball Coach Pat Clatchey is one of the best in the business, and when he says he has a youngster to watch, well take heed.
Over the years countless Gaels have gone on to major college success (and even NBA), led by Henry Sims (Georgetown/NBA), Kam Williams (Ohio State), Eric Atkins (Notre Dame), Phil Booth (Villanova) and, closer to home for the Terrapins, forward Dino Gregory.
This year's offering is just a freshman pup (and mind you, a young MSJ squad won 19 games before losing in the BCL playoffs Friday night versus Mount Carmel), 6-foot-7 forward/center Jalen Smith.
Just 14 years-old and starting in the middle for Clatchey, as he is MSJ's longest but hardly thickest big, Smith is all arms and legs, a young colt. Maybe 175 pounds soaking wet, Smith has the long, sinewy body type that looks like it could grow to 6-10. And Maryland is already tracking him, with Bino Ranson at his game Friday night, and Smith having already travelled to College Park this year.
Though skinny as a reed, Smith is, however, long, athletic, versatile enough to play three spots, has terrific timing and touch, inside-out ability, and on this night, scouting him at Calvert Hall in the 58-48 loss to the Cougars, what we liked best was his ability to pass out of, and in and around, the blocks for a big man.
Smith would foul out with four minutes left after some quick, ticky-tack/silly touch fouls, while in the time he was on the floor he produced 5 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, several altered shots, but maybe most intriguing were his 3 assists.
While he made a nice baseline move along the left side and finished (something considering Mount Carmel's rugged bigs led by jumping-jack junior David Erebor (6-9)), a play in which he displayed he could put it on the floor quick and drive, Smith's activity on the blocks and his passing to cutting teammates in the lane for easy buckets impressed us most.
Now, with a near 7-foot wingspan, Smith's length and ability to either block or, several times, alter shots was impressive as well. But given the fact he needs so much more strength, he often got pushed off the blocks, and had difficulty at times finishing with a man in his face or on his hip. But we liked how he moved with ease from the weakside to snatch or at least contest long rebounds, as he was quick and active despite undersized.
In the first quarter Smith grabbed an offensive rebound off the right side and before the defense could re-set, he already turned and found a cutting teammate just below the foul line, who finished with a lay-in, while he did the same in the second half on a similar play. One area MSJ struggled this year was its guards, so he helped them get some early, typically hard-found assists. His interior passing was impressive.
Smith went to the free throw line a few times, and his first three were textbook perfect-form buckets, while his fourth rimmed in and out. So we liked his shooting mechanics for a young, gangly kid.
Though the bespectacled Smith could easily get knocked off the blocks, he still fought hard for positioning and rebounds and loose balls throughout the night, which contributed to a few of his personal fouls through being aggressive.
He passed well out to the wings after getting entry passes if he did not have a clear lane to the basket, with his eyes and anticipation always active.
Again just 14, a few times Smith got a little animated and upset over foul calls, which were head-scratchers at times, both ways, on the night. But the good news is he was intense and scrapping despite giving up some 40 pounds, at least, to both of Mount Carmel's thicker bigs led by Erebor (14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks).
While he needs considerable weight gain, and one has to see how much more he will grow to project him positionally, Jalen Smith has a strong early skill set (and innate things you cannot teach, like vision/anticipation) that will bode well in the coming years. While he can see things that he can't always physically finish, with the innate 'feel' there but the body not always ready, time in the weight room will allow him to be more of an impact player in the years to come. Smith showed quick hands and feet, and moved well around the cup trying to get position. He is quick off the floor and didn't hesitate to contest things in and amongst the thicker trees.
Smith is MSJ's brightest young prospect, and this is a local power program known for churning them out. Expect him to be on the Terps' radar for years to come. He also excels in the classroom, with a 3.3 grade point average, and hails from a longtime military family.
Terps Scout Freshman Big-Man Jalen Smith
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