COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Last April, almost a year after transferring down to College Park by way of Ann Arbor, Mich., Evan Smotrycz was sitting in his dorm room alongside his new teammates, Nick Faust, Pe'Shon Howard and James Padgett, who piled in to watch the Final Four matchups. Of course, last year's national semifinals and finals just so happened to feature Smotrycz's former school, Michigan. Not that the 6-foot-9, 230-pound junior was overly concerned with the results considering he'd been at Maryland for a year, but he did take some interest as the Wolverines knocked off Syracuse before falling to Louisville during the championship game.
"I was happy for [Michigan]; I'm friends with a lot of those guys," Smotrycz said during the Oct. 8 media day. "A lot of people thought I'd be bitter or something, but leaving [UM] was my choice. [Seeing them make the championship] really didn't bother me. I can't think like that. I'm just happy to be here now."
Smotrycz, who has two years of eligibility remaining, transferred after the 2011-12 campaign mainly because he'd surrendered his starting spot as Michigan recruited over him. He said he just wasn't happy in Ann Arbor and wanted to find a school where he could expand his game, showcase his full arsenal of skills and "play the way I wanted to play."
That school turned out to be Maryland. Terps head coach Mark Turgeon, after hearing Smotrycz had received his release from Michigan, contacted the stretch-four forward and convinced him to visit College Park back in 2012. The Reading, Mass., native immediately fell in love with the school and the program, and soon after he had his transfer papers filed.
A year later, Smotrycz remains smitten with Maryland, even though he's yet to play one minute due to NCAA transfer rules.
"I love it here. I'm so thankful Coach Turge called me and eventually got me here," Smotrycz said. "I love everything about the campus, the team, the coaches. I love every day of it. To be honest, I just love coming to practice every day. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or what, but I just love practicing and playing with these guys. I just enjoy it, and this is a great fit for me."
It's safe to say the feelings are reciprocal. Smotrycz has drawn plenty of praise from Turgeon and his teammates during the last year, as much for his dead-eye stroke beyond the 3-point line as for his work ethic and character.
Terps sophomore wing Jake Layman, a fellow Massachusetts native (the two did not know each other growing up), got to know Smotrycz on a more personal level during the summer and said he's "a great guy."
"To me he's one of our leaders because he's older and he knows the game so well," Layman said. "He went to a great school in Michigan for two years, and he just knows a lot about the game. He's very intelligent on the floor and just a smart player."
Those smarts seem to have translated well to the hardwood. During his final year in Ann Arbor, Smotrycz averaged 21.1 minutes per game, 7.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and led the squad with a .435 percentage from long range. He played in all 34 games and made 18 starts, putting up double-digit scoring nights a dozen times while pouring in 20 points on two different occasions. During one stretch he had three straight double-doubles, followed by an NCAA tournament game where he piled up 15 points.. The year before, his freshman campaign, Smotrycz was named the Wolverines' sixth man of the year after averaging 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds.
"He's just another great shooter on the floor for us," Layman said. "When he gets hot, he can really knock them down."
But while Smotrycz is known for his 3-pointers, he said he's more than just a shooter.
"I'm a guy who can stretch the floor, open up lanes for a bunch of guys, as well as make plays myself," Smotrycz said. "I'm someone who can space the floor
knock down shots
and make plays for other guys too."
Turns out he can handle the ball a bit as well. Growing up, Smotrycz spent most of his time playing point guard under the watch of his father, who coached him. All the way through high school, even as he sprouted up to 6-feet-5, he was the team's primary ball-handler.
"I've had a basketball in my hand since I was a little baby," Smotrycz said. "So I've been able to keep some of my [point guard] skills and wasn't just a post-up guy.
If you can make plays off the dribble, the game's just a lot easier."
Don't expect Smotrycz to be bringing the ball up for Maryland this year, but he can play a variety of other roles. Sure, he's comfortable shooting beyond the arc, but Turgeon likes the way he posts up, passes and play defense. In fact, the Terps' headman mentioned that Smotrycz has become a better athlete and changed his body, while continuing to fine-tune the rest of his game.
"I joke with [Smotrycz] that he's never going to be a great athlete, but he's a good athlete," Turgeon said, chuckling. "I think he has confidence and he's very comfortable with his teammates. He's gotten better defensively and he's a major weapon. He can really shoot it, but he can post up too. He can really pass it, but he moves well without the ball too. He can also get out and guard the little guys; he had to do that at Michigan. So I expect Evan to have a great year and be an excellent player for us."
It took plenty of effort to garner that kind of praise. While the rest of the Terps were preparing for games last year, Smotrycz said he'd concentrate on his own personalized workouts in order to gain strength, explosion and improve his all-around skills. Although it was difficult being unable to contribute on game days, he made the most of the situation.
"Every day I wanted to get better in some aspect of my game," Smotrycz said. "Guys would be napping before the game, and I'd be working. I didn't want to waste any time. It definitely wasn't easy watching from the side [during games], but I don't know if it was harder than I would have imagined. I knew what I was getting into [when I transferred]."
While Smotrycz spent the bulk of his days either in the gym or in his books, he did take some time to indulge in a few hobbies. First and foremost, video games. Smotrycz admitted he's a big FIFA soccer fan, and he just recently bough the newest version, FIFA '14.
"That one got mixed reviews, but I like it," Smotrycz said. "I like [playing with] Paris Saint-Germain, that's my team. The other guys [teammates], they try to play too -- Nick [Faust] has tried -- but they're not very good (laughs)."
Soon, though, the video game playing will cease as the Terps prepare for their opener against Connecticut Nov. 8. And after sitting out last season, that's a game Smotrycz has had circled for a year.
"I've been waiting for a long time. I've been putting it on Twitter, just counting down," he said. "It's coming quick, though; it's already October. I'll definitely be nervous, but I'll mostly be happy to be out there playing again."
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