FAIRBORN — Wright State University men’s basketball freshman guard Malachi Smith could very well be the guy to lead the Raiders offense one day with his unrelenting work ethic.
Last season for southern Illinois’ Belleville West high school, Smith helped propel a Maroons squad to its first-ever state title that he referred to as “legendary.” Having the target on their back as a championship contender taught him to focus on the finer details of basketball.
“It started in practice with the little things: shooting free throws, making sure you’re mentally focused, passing, or going through plays,” Smith said. “I think that has helped me now, because I’m at the next level, and every practice, game and moment counts.”
When he was seeking a college to attend, the deciding factor in choosing WSU was Smith’s desire to have a coaching staff that could instill confidence in him.
“It’s more than just basketball. There are going to be certain times where you’re having a bad day and need to talk to someone,” Smith said. “I felt most comfortable with Coach (Scott) Nagy and the rest of his staff.”
His comfort level with the coaching staff and his teammates has been beneficial in transitioning to a collegiate offense, Smith added. Before arriving on campus, he was already exchanging texts with fellow guards Mark Hughes and Jaylon Hall.
“Everything is more detailed and intense: your cuts, passes and the way you stand and run,” Smith said. “There are going to be some growing pains, but that is why I’m glad to have the staff I have here. Teammates are always there for me throughout practice.”
“Like most freshmen, there is a learning curve of playing at the college level,” WSU Coach Scott Nagy said. “He (Smith) is getting better every day and picking up what we expect of him.”
One skill that has been raved about Smith is his high basketball IQ. He needed to be proficient in multiple phases of the game during his senior year of high school.
“I’m unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win. Last year, we didn’t have a lot of big men, and I would be guarding fours and fives (power forwards and centers),” Smith said. “There would be games where I wouldn’t have many points, but I had a lot of assists, I had to keep the tempo down and be a leader. If I see the last player on our bench is going to help us win, that’s what I’m going to make sure happens.”
“He (Smith) is a smart basketball player who looks to make the right play,” Nagy said. “He is a bigger, stronger guard who can play multiple positions for us.”
With his ability to fill several roles, it’s no surprise that Smith has a calm demeanor in pressure situations.
“When you’re the point guard, all eyes are on you, and that doesn’t really faze me. My mom and dad taught me to embrace the moment,” Smith said. “If I need to slow the pace down or rally my team together, that’s never been a problem for me.”
The game of basketball has been generational in Smith’s family. His grandfather, Larry Knight, was a standout forward at Loyola-Chicago and drafted by the Utah Jazz in 1979.
“He (Knight) didn’t want to force basketball. If I needed advice, he would help me,” Smith said. “I still talk to him to this day, and he tells me the things he wished were told to him at the college level.”
After being lightly recruited, Smith has an additional chip on his shoulder.
“I didn’t have all the stars or everyone looking at me, so it took a lot of hard work,” he said.
When he is dribbling down the court, one thing that motivates Smith is his mother, who was a single parent when he was growing up.
“I’ve seen the sacrifices she has made for me. If she can sacrifice while raising a child, I can give my all on the court,” Smith said. “I just try to make her proud.”
With the regular season that begins at the Nutter Center on Nov. 7 against Western Carolina looming, Smith is looking forward to getting his Raider career under way.
“I’m not really nervous, but anxious to play,” Smith said. “Hopefully, the hard work and hours I’m putting in now pay off.”
“Malachi comes from a winning background. It is good to have a core of players who know how to win,” Nagy said. “He fits right into our program, and we look forward to seeing what he can do for us this season and in the future.”
For more information about Wright State University athletics visit www.wsuraiders.com.