In his one season at FIU, 6-2 guard Malik Smith played an important role on a team that won 18 games and lost to Western Kentucky by two points in the Sun Belt tournament in Richard Pitino’s first season at the helm.
The turnaround ultimately led to Pitino being hired at Minnesota, and ultimately issues in the program prior to Pitino’s arrival resulted in FIU being hit with a one-year postseason ban for low APR scores. Smith made the decision to transfer, rejoining his head coach in the Big Ten with the hope that he’d be eligible to play in 2013-14.
On Wednesday it was announced that the NCAA has granted Smith’s request for an immediate eligibility waiver, giving the Golden Gophers a guard who averaged 14.1 points per game as a junior.
“We are certainly excited that the NCAA has approved the waiver for Malik,” Pitino said in the release announcing the NCAA’s decision. “He is a great addition to the roster given his skills and his invaluable knowledge of how we run our program.”
Smith joins a backcourt that has experienced returnees, as Maverick Ahanmisi, Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins were all rotation players for a team that won 21 games last season. Andre Hollins was Minnesota’s best perimeter shooter last season, as he connected on 81 of his 194 attempts (41.8%), and the addition of Smith gives the Gophers another capable option in this department.
Smith shot 36.2% from deep (96 made three-pointers), and with the players he’s joining it’s realistic to think that he’ll be a more efficient offensive player in 2013-14 (offensive rating of 101.9 last season, per kenpom.com). And as Pitino noted in the release, Smith’s familiarity with the uptempo system that Minnesota hopes to employ should help with that process.
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.
Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.
Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.
Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.
Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.
Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).
In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.