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Indiana basketball needs upgrade at small forward spot Justin Smith is leaving



LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Over the last three seasons, nobody started more games for Archie Miller at Indiana University than Justin Smith.

Only Al Durham played more minutes. Only Devonte Green and Juwan Morgan (in two seasons) launched more shots.

But The Transfer Train made another stop in Bloomington on Friday — and Smith, an IU staple, jumped on board.



Put me down for a location closer to Smith’s roots in suburban Chicago. Maybe Marquette. Mike Brey has done well with transfers at Notre Dame. Stay tuned.

Smith is a bright and committed student. He earned his degree from IU’s prestigious Kelley School of Business in three years. He also earned his opportunity to leave and play immediately at his next stop.

But when a player who started 73 games over the last three seasons and averaged more than 27 minutes per game the last two seasons departs, the news deserves more than a couple of paragraphs.

This is a guy who started his last 40 games at Indiana and scored in double figures 15 times as a junior. Smith was not a player waiting for his opportunity. That’s not college basketball in 2020.

He was a player who had plenty of ups — and plenty of downs. There were standing ovations — and harsh judgments on social media. That is college basketball in 2020.

All roads lead to The Transfer Train. Ask Louisville (Darius Perry); Kentucky (Johnny Juzang); Purdue (Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern) and IU (where Damezi Anderson had previously announced he was bound for Loyola of Chicago).

According to the website, there have been 917 transfers announced for next season. Smith’s status as the latest Division I transfer lasted less than 26 minutes after Grant Weatherford said he was leaving IUPUI for Georgia Southern.

If that total is accurate, it will be a significant jump from numbers from the last three seasons reported by the NCAA — 694 after the 2019 season, 704 after the 2018 season and 689 after the 2017 season.

The culture has changed. Transferring used to be discouraged. Some considered it an admission of failure, a sign of impatience.

Not any more. College basketball careers are short. There is no reason to remain unhappy or frustrated. Dozens of schools are eager to provide a fresh start. Go for it.

The reality, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle. Players have become conditioned to changing high schools and changing AAU teams.

Why not change college teams, too? It’s a great opportunity to turn on the recruiting spotlight one more time.

Earlier this week, the NCAA decided to table discussion about approving immediate eligibility for transfers in good academic standing one time in their careers.

It would be another step toward free agency, free agency that coaches and assistant coaches enjoy without having to sit out one season.

I expect the debate to be vigorous because several Division I coaches have spoken against the change. I also expect the measure to pass because the cultural winds are blowing in that direction.

For Smith, as I noted earlier, immediate eligibility will not be a question. He earned his by earning his degree.

His legacy at Indiana will be mixed. Smith stayed for three seasons and played for a coaching staff that did not recruit him out of high school. That’s usually a challenging path. Miller’s emphasis on defense differs from Crean’s high-octane offensive approach.

Smith’s highlight tape will show a string of solid defensive plays, a commitment to rebounding, plenty of activity above the rim and recognition as a guy who played his absolute best basketball against Michigan State.

It will also show that Indiana needs more efficient and consistent play from the small forward position. Smith leaves as a 25 percent career three-point shooter who became too comfortable launching from distance.

Guys that go 10 for 38 should not be averaging more than one attempt from distance per game.

Small forward should also be a position that demands passing and ball-handling skills. Over three seasons, Smith finished with 149 turnovers and 64 assists. Making plays for other players was never his strength.

In today’s game, the best teams attack with small forwards who can handle the basketball and shoot. Indiana must find a guy like that to become one of the top teams in the Big Ten again.

A frontcourt of Smith, Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis left Indiana with three guys who weren’t great shooters or ball-handlers. Defenses feasted on packing the paint and squeezing the driving lines. No wonder the offense looked stagnant.

Maybe Jerome Hunter, Smith’s likely replacement, Jordan Geronimo or Trey Galloway, will fix that hole in the Indiana offense.

With Justin Smith departing, they’ll certainly get the chance.