Former Terps Star Jalen Smith: ‘I Truly Understand’ Why Mark Turgeon Moved On

Former Maryland star Jalen Smith, who played for the Terps from 2018-2020 before moving on to the Phoenix Suns, says he understands why former Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon walked away from his job at Maryland in the face of mounting criticism from Terps fans.

Maryland and Turgeon announced Dec. 3 that they had mutually split, with assistant coach Danny Manning taking over the head coaching position on an interim basis and a national search taking place following the season. Turgeon has not spoken on the record about why he left, but there’s been plenty of discussion about the role the fan base played in his decision.

Smith, one of the best players to come through the program while Turgeon was the coach, supports Turgeon’s decision to walk away.

“I truly understand it, why he did it. I experienced Maryland fans. I know what they’re about and I know how fair-weather they can get,” Smith said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 24. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to choose your mental health over anything. They were hounding him for a long time. I didn’t like it, either. I tried to speak up on it multiple times but at the end of the day it doesn’t really do much. I mean, he had a family to look after.”

Fans’ dissatisfaction with the program under Turgeon steadily grew after the 2015-16 season, when a team that rose as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll ended up bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16. Turgeon made the tournament five times in his final seven full seasons — it would have been six times if not for COVID-19 forcing the cancellation for the 2020 tournament — but his teams never made a deep run, irking fans desperate for deep run in March.

Beyond the lack of postseason success, fans had other complaints about Turgeon, from style of play to recent results on the recruiting trail to unexciting nonconference schedules. Still, Turgeon went 226-116 as the Terps’ head coach and COVID-19 robbed him of possibly his best chance to make a deep postseason run. That 2019-20 Maryland team ranked No. 11 on KenPom, making it Turgeon’s highest-rated team in College Park.

Smith, a third-team All-American in 2019-20, still keeps in touch with Turgeon.

“The day after [he stepped down] I texted Coach Turgeon just to have a conversation with him and tell him that I was still supporting him no matter what,” Smith said. “I still keep in contact with all the guys on the team. I get to watch them since we’re on a two-hour difference, so games come on a lot earlier here. Pretty much just watching from afar, you miss it a lot but at the end of the day you know he had to move on at some point.”

Though he doesn’t like the way things ended with Turgeon, Smith will still support Maryland and the program’s next coach.

“I’ll always support them. It’s my college,” Smith said.

Now, Smith is with the Suns and earning more of an opportunity than he had in 2020-21. After being picked No. 10 overall by the Suns in the 2020 NBA Draft, he struggled to find his footing with the team. The November 2020 trade for Chris Paul signaled that the Suns were in win-now mode, and Smith didn’t see the playing time that he would’ve seen with a rebuilding team.

Jalen Smith
Jalen Smith (Photo Credit: Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

As such, Smith bounced between the Suns’ roster and the NBA G League last year. He also missed time due to COVID-19 in what turned out to be a lost year. But this year has been a different story thanks to a recent stretch made possible by absences for Deandre Ayton (COVID-19 protocols), Jae Crowder (COVID-19 protocols) and Frank Kaminsky (right knee surgery). In 10 games from Dec. 27 to Jan. 16, Smith averaged 10.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

“Everybody talks about it a lot — opportunity is really rare in the NBA, and whenever you’re given it you’ve got to make the most of it,” Smith said. “That was just my main goal going into it, just showing that I can play, that I belong in the NBA and that I was picked where I was for a reason. It was just going out there and just trying to prove myself. That’s pretty much the main goal is to prove myself.”

However, the Suns declined Smith’s third-year rookie option in early November, leaving his future uncertain. He’s scheduled to hit free agency this summer.

“I never let it get to me because I know my ability,” Smith said of the uneven start to his career. “I wouldn’t be in the NBA if I wasn’t good enough. Pretty much it was continue to keep working and not try to let the outside things affect me and how I present myself. Pretty much the main goal even though obviously everything with the contract and stuff like that is just coming in and doing my job and making sure that I’m getting better every day.”

For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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