Belleville West senior guard Malachi Smith will take his second and third NCAA-paid visits in the next two weeks.
Smith, a 6-foot-3 combo guard who transferred in July from Belleville East, will visit the University of Denver on Oct. 12 and Wright State University, located in Dayton, Ohio, on Oct. 19. Denver already has made Smith a scholarship offer.
Smith made an official visit in August to Missouri State, which subsequently made him an offer. Smith, however, wasn’t ready to make a decision at that time, and Missouri State has since pulled its offer after filling its needs. Smith made an unofficial visit this summer to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Indiana State and Evansville, of the Missouri Valley Conference, also have attended open gym at West to watch Smith, who averaged 12 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals last season for the Lancers. Evansville is coached by former SIUE coach Marty Simmons.
“It’s very humbling,” Smith said. “When you go on these visits, you have to look for a lot of things. You have to see how it feels, how’s the environment, how’s the campus, the coach. There’s a lot of thing. It’s breath-taking. But you also have to sit down and evaluate.”
Smith, who plays AAU for Jets Ramey United, said his game has made strides.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better on the defensive end,” he said. “And I’ve gotten stronger, which has helped my attacking and finishing at the rim. Last year, I wasn’t that strong. I missed a lot of layups and missed a lot of ‘and one’ opportunities. But I’ve been working on my game outside of school, and with my AAU team, we get a lot of exposure.”
Smith said his defensive progress is arguably the most important development in his game.
“I feel like coaches will look at you more if you play defense,” he said. “Everyone can score. If you can hold one player, that can ruin a team’s whole offense because their offense isn’t predicated on everyone else scoring. It’s just that one player. So if you can take him out of the game, the coach has to find a whole new way to get the offense flowing.”
Maroons coach Joe Muniz hasn’t seen his first game with Smith in a West uniform but already can tell Smith is a more confident player.
“His overall confidence when he’s playing out there is much higher than what I saw in the past,” Muniz said. “He’s not tentative. He’s extremely aggressive. I think a lot of that has to do with maturity. He’s been a junior, and he’s been a sophomore, starting on varsity. Now he’s a senior. He’s gotten stronger, he’s finishing around the rim better and he’s shooting the ball with confidence. He’s put in the work and the time to get better.”
Smith is a solid student who has been taught the importance of good grades by his mother, Connie Smith.
“Grades come first. My mom instilled that in me from day one,” Malachi Smith said. “There’s no basketball without grades. I always make sure I get my homework done first, and I utilize my time in the classroom, study hall and in the lunchroom when I’m not eating. That’s what you’ve got to do if you have goals you want to meet. Instead of sitting there and talking on your phone, you get some work done.”
Smith doesn’t have a timetable for making his decision.
“I’m enjoying it, but I’m also like, ‘Hey, the time’s starting to tick a little bit. You’ve got to start narrowing down your decision,’” said Smith, who remembers wanting to be a Division I player “ever since I picked up a basketball.”
“Football is my first love,” he said, “but I started playing basketball competitively around the sixth grade. When I realized I could compete with some of the guards around here, I was like, ‘OK, this is something I want to do the rest of my life.’ I’ve only been doing things to help myself get toward it. Now that it’s actually here, I’m just blessed and thankful for the opportunity.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm