Prior to the 2020 NBA Draft, Jalen Smith believed the Phoenix Suns represented a perfect situation for him — and that desire to land in Phoenix became a reality on draft night when the Suns picked him No. 10 overall, higher than almost every mock draft had him going.
The former Maryland and Mount Saint Joseph center will join 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, budding superstar Devin Booker and former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton in Phoenix. The Suns went 8-0 in the Orlando bubble this summer, narrowly missing the postseason and finishing 34-39 overall. They’ve since added Paul and Smith. Training camp will start early next month, and the regular season will tip off Dec. 22.
Smith can’t wait to get going.
“It’s an amazing situation because there are just so many pieces in that organization that I can learn from,” Smith said on Glenn Clark Radio Nov. 20. “You’ve got Chris Paul. My whole basketball career, I’ve always played with a great point guard, coming from high school and going to Maryland with [Anthony Cowan Jr.].
“Just being behind Deandre Ayton and being able to learn from him, I’ve always been behind a dominant big and been able to learn from him. … Obviously, [Booker is] a top, talented scorer and just being able to pick his brain and understand his ways of the league and understand how he does the things that he does. At the end of the day, I get the best of both worlds in my situation.”
Smith declared for the draft this spring after putting together perhaps the best season by a Maryland big man since Joe Smith (1994-95). Jalen Smith averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the Terps in 2019-20, leading Maryland to a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship. Earlier this year, Smith said he was “highly confident” the Terps would have made a deep postseason run.
Smith said he started to get the feeling Phoenix was interested in him at No. 10 when talking to Suns head coach Monty Williams — a graduate of Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, Md. — and general manager James Jones at his pre-draft workouts.
“When they came, it wasn’t really much about basketball,” Smith said. “Pretty much more about just me as a character and me getting ready for that test of the NBA and just making sure that I understand that no matter where I go, I’m going to have to work hard and pretty much put up a full effort if I want to stay in the NBA because obviously it’s [hard] to make it, but it’s even harder to stay.”
Once Smith arrives in Phoenix, he’ll have the opportunity to follow the example of Paul, considered a consummate professional in the game. The point guard has played 15 years in the NBA, averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals during that time. The future Hall of Famer has led the league in assists four times and steals six times.
Smith says he’s eager to learn the work ethic required to play at a high level in the NBA for 15 years. Smith added that he’s always had a “big brother” on his teams who he can look up to — most recently fellow Mount Saint Joseph graduate Darryl Morsell at Maryland — and hopes Paul can help guide him in that way in the NBA.
“It’s going to be some fanboy,” Smith admitted. “I’ve been watching Chris Paul since he was in New Orleans. But at the end of the day, it’s still going to be a professional level, but there’s going to be some fanboying.”
Smith also touched on some other topics …
On what teams are missing with Anthony Cowan Jr.:
“At the end of the day, I felt as though Ant should’ve heard his name called a whole lot earlier. I felt as though he could’ve heard his called right after mine or even before. … Ant’s a winner. He won pretty much his whole career as well. I feel as though a lot of team’s aren’t looking at that point. That’s one of the main factors of picking someone — if they’re a winner or not. Ant leads so much. He was a leader at Maryland and he was a leader when he was at St. John’s. I feel as though when he gets a shot, he’s going to prove everybody wrong. I can’t wait to play with him one day or play against him.”
On fellow Baltimore Catholic League alum Immanuel Quickley, now a member of the New York Knicks:
“Obviously, we’re in Maryland but a lot of people look toward the WCAC for the talent and don’t realize the actual talent that comes out of the Baltimore Catholic League. Me and him help put that emphasis on it. The WCAC is there, but the BCL has some talent here, too, so don’t overlook it. … Immanuel is a whole different breed of basketball player — the shots that he makes, the confidence that he has, just that hunger and grit he has as a point guard, it’s an outstanding thing. The people that say he’s just a 3-point shooter haven’t really truly seen him play.”
On what he’ll do with his first paycheck:
“Obviously, since this year’s been all weird, [my sister] won’t be in school and she probably won’t have prom. I understand how big the prom was because it was a huge moment for me. I was going to put a little bit of it aside for her prom party so that she can experience that prom aspect of life because it’s a major thing that many people look forward to in high school. She goes to Woodlawn High.”
On what player he’s looking forward to facing the most in the NBA:
Obviously it’s going to be LeBron. He’s the best player in the world. Being on the same court as him and the same league as him before he retires, it’s an amazing feeling. It’d probably be him.
For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox