A crowded depth chart on the wing for Indiana thinned out slightly Friday, but at the expense of an experienced veteran presence.
Senior forward Justin Smith, who was the Hoosiers' third-leading scorer last season and led the team in minutes played, announced Friday morning that he has entered his name in the transfer portal and plans to play his final season of eligibility elsewhere. He has already graduated with a degree from the Kelley School of Business and so will be immediately eligible to play under the NCAA's graduate transfer policy.
“I want to thank Indiana University, the IU Men's Basketball Program and the awesome fans of Indiana for three amazing years in pinstripes,” Smith wrote in a message on Twitter. “To my teammates, you are my brothers. I wish you nothing but the best on the bright path to complete our unfulfilled NCAA Tournament dreams.
“The Hoosier Experience, the Kelley School of Business degree, and the friends I've made in Bloomington in and outside of the basketball program will be forever treasured.”
Smith put his name into the NBA draft process in late April in order to receive feedback from league coaches, scouts and executives. According to Indiana coach Archie Miller, it was after those discussions that Smith decided to play elsewhere for his final season.
“Justin Smith and I had a conversation recently where we discussed his future and the feedback from the NBA,” Miller said in a statement. “In that discussion, he made the decision to graduate and transfer for his final season of eligibility.
“I support his decision and wish Justin and his family all the best in this next chapter. I'm proud of his growth as a person, he's a great young man and has been a terrific role model off the court and in the classroom. ... We thank him for all his contributions to Indiana University and our program.”
The 6-foot-7 small forward was a key piece of the Indiana team that went 20-12 last year before the rest of the season was canceled because of COVID-19. Smith averaged 10.4 points and was second on the team with 5.2 rebounds per contest. He led the team with 31 steals, blossoming into a solid perimeter defender and shrugging off some of the inconsistency that plagued him on that end of the floor early in his career.
Smith shot better than 49% from the field and hit 26% of his 3-pointers as a junior. He never quite became the threat from outside that the Hoosiers envisioned, but he worked hard on his jump shot and his outside shooting stats improved significantly last season. He was also a durable player, starting 64 of Indiana's 67 games over the last two years.
Smith, a Buffalo Grove, Illinois, native entered Indiana as a top 100 recruit out of powerful Stevenson High School, the jewel of the Hoosiers' 2017 recruiting class. He averaged 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds mostly off the bench as a freshman before moving into the starting lineup on a full-time basis as a sophomore.
Smith's finest performance as a Hoosier arguably came in March 2019, when he carried Indiana to a 63-62 win over No. 6 Michigan State at Assembly Hall with 24 points, four rebounds and a 3-for-6 performance from beyond the arc. He matched that career-high for points in the Hoosiers' 2019-20 season-opener against Western Illinois.
Indiana will miss Smith's defensive ability, his athleticism on the boards and his ability to get to the rim off the dribble on a regular basis. However, the Hoosiers' depth on the wing is such that it might be able to replicate or even exceed his production if some younger players step up next season.
Among those who could fill the void left by Smith on the wing are redshirt junior Race Thompson and redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter, both of whom showed significant potential last season and could thrive with more minutes. Hunter is a better 3-point shooter than Smith was and could help unclog the middle in the Hoosiers' offense, while Thompson is a tenacious rebounder and can score around the hoop.
Freshman Jordan Geronimo, a top 100 recruit in the 2020 class, will likely also get some looks at Smith's old spot and could force his way into the rotation if Thompson or Hunter struggle in their enlarged roles.
Smith is the second wing to transfer from Indiana this offseason, joining junior Damezi Anderson. The Hoosiers now have two open scholarships for next season and could dip into the transfer portal to fill them.