Malachi Smith didn’t wait until the National Letter of Intent signing period to announce his college decision.
The Belleville West senior guard said Tuesday that when he puts his name on the dotted line, he’ll do so with Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, a Division I basketball program that competes in the Horizon League.
Smith made an official visit to the campus in late October and liked what he saw in the Raiders and coach Scott Nagy.
“It was the campus and the way the coaching staff treated me,” Smith said Tuesday. “You get the feeling from Coach Nagy that he knows how to get us to the (NCAA) tournament and that his goal isn’t just to get there, but to win games.”
Nagy was an assistant at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for two years before taking over as head coach at South Dakota State in time to transition the program from Division II to D-I. He led the Jackrabbits to the NCAA Tournament three times, winning first-round games in 2012 and 2013.
This will be his second season at Wright State.
“I’m looking forward to getting there, getting an education and being pushed to grow as a player,” Smith said. “I know the coaches there can do that for me.”
Smith had also received offers from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Montana State and the University of Denver. Missouri State also courted him but used up its scholarships before Smith was ready to commit.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Smith played his past three seasons at Belleville East but transferred to West when his mother found them a new home across town.
He averaged 5.4 points in 28 games as a sophomore at East, then blossomed as a junior with 12 points and 6.3 rebounds for the 16-13 Lancers. Smith’s move to West, coupled with the return of four-star junior recruit EJ Liddell, makes the Maroons an early favorite in the Southwestern Conference.
“What’s impressive about Malachi is his size. He’s 6-3 or 6-4, and you just don’t see guards that big,” said West coach Joe Muniz. “He needs to work on his strength, like a lot of teenaged players. Once he gets into his 20s and has been training the right way, he’ll fill out. He’ll be a load by the time he’s a senior (in college).”
Smith might have waited out a successful senior season to weigh his offers, but he said he’s comfortable with his decision to sign early.
“I know I could have waited, but I told myself if it feels right to go with my gut,” he said. “I talked to my mom and talked to my dad, prayed on it and feel confident in my choice. I wasn’t afraid of signing before my senior year or signing after, but I do feel like there’s a weight that’s been lifted off my shoulders. It lets me focus on working and winning a state championship, which is what it’s all about.”
Smith plays summer AAU basketball with the Jets Ramey United, where he shares the court with other metro-east high school standouts, such as Kevin Caldwell, of Alton; Caleb Strohmeier, of Edwardsville; and Jalen Hodge, of O’Fallon.
“The other thing about him is his nose for the game — he has a high basketball IQ,” Muniz said. “He makes the right play at the right time, knows when to take a shot or dish it off to somebody who has an easier shot.”
Wright State was a Division II national champion in 1983 and has made two NCAA tournament appearances since transitioning to D-I, most recently in 2007. The Raiders finished 20-12 last season but missed out on postseason play. They are picked to finish fifth this season, according to the league’s annual coaches’ poll.
The other teams in the Horizon League are: Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Green Bay, IUPUI, Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Illinois-Chicago, and Youngstown State.