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Player Profile: Mike Smith brings experience, playmaking ability to new destination

The grad transfer from Columbia is here to help offset the loss of Zavier Simpson

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 10 Columbia at Villanova Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Next up in our Michigan Wolverines basketball player profile series is Mike Smith, a graduate transfer that will play out his final season of eligibility in Ann Arbor. He will be relied upon to provide experience and playmaking ability to the point guard position in the second season of the Juwan Howard era.

Here is a snapshot of his career so far and what he projects to bring this season.

The Story So Far

Smith, a 5-foot-11 guard who was a star at Fenwick HS in the Chicago Catholic League, began his college career in the Ivy League at Columbia. He started all 27 games as a freshman and averaged 13.6 points per game and led the team in assists at 3.5 per game. He took an even larger step in his second year in 2017-18 and led his team in scoring at 17.6 points per game and averaged 4.6 assists per game.

The junior season at Columbia was where things did not go as planned, as it was a short, eight-game campaign for Smith after tearing his meniscus in December. His scoring was slightly down (15.8 points per game), but the assist numbers ticked up to an even five per contest. Due to an injury, Smith was able to get a medical redshirt and stated before his senior year that he would enter his name into the transfer portal for a graduate fifth season. Ivy League players are only allowed four years of eligibility, so this gave him a chance to showcase what he could do as an audition for his final collegiate season.

Despite some questioning if Smith would be focused and engaged during his final year at Columbia, he posted his best season yet. Smith led the Ivy League in scoring at 22.8 points per game and started all 30 contests during the 2019-20 campaign before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smith committed to Michigan and Howard in the spring and left the Ivy League as a two-time All-Conference Second Team selection and left Columbia as the fourth-leading scorer in program history.

How He Fits in 2020-21

Michigan needed help at point guard in the worst way this offseason after Zavier Simpson graduated and David DeJulius entered the transfer portal. That left Michigan with only Eli Brooks and an incoming true freshman in Zeb Jackson as players that can bring the ball up the floor. Howard targeted Smith and made it clear he was going to have an opportunity to play a critical role at Michigan and so far, the feedback suggests he will do just that.

The primarily ballcarrier on offense is going to be between Smith and Brooks, but it remains to be seen who starts or what their roles are. There are a number of different directions that they can go given the positional versatility of the rest of the roster, but Smith is undoubtedly important.

The Big Ten is a much different and more physical league than the Ivy is and Smith is not the lone playmaker on the roster anymore, so the way he fits in on a deep team that has expectations to win is going to be interesting to watch. The good news is that he has an infectious personality and has already fit in well in the locker room, so chemistry should not be an issue here.

Smith’s ceiling at Michigan might depend on how he holds up defensively, but he is locked in as someone who will play a key role this season. Unless Jackson makes a huge jump as a freshman and can’t be kept off the floor — which is not completely out of the question — Howard needs Smith to come in and play well.

It will not be on Smith to come in and step into Simpson’s shoes. Nobody is going to be able to do that on their own, but he will be a big part of the puzzle there. We will see soon enough if his work with Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat translates to the Big Ten.