Smith hopes his stock will soar at Arkansas
An above-the-rim player since his days at Stevenson, Justin Smith hopes his game can soar to another level in the next year.
The University of Arkansas and head coach Eric Musselman, Smith believes, will give him the best chance to achieve that goal and make him more NBA-ready.
"Yeah, it was a factor," the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward said this week after announcing he is transferring from Indiana University to Arkansas for his final season of college eligibility. "(My family and I) felt that a move to Arkansas would better my chances [for the NBA]."
Smith graduated from IU's business school in three years and entered the NCAA transfer portal in May. He started 64 of the Hoosiers' 67 games the last two seasons, averaging career bests of 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game as a junior. He led the team in minutes this past season.
He will be eligible to play immediately at Arkansas.
"I left (Indiana) because my family and I felt that it was best to explore other opportunities, to maybe go to a place where my skill set and abilities are accentuated and where I can flourish a little bit more," said Smith, whose family, including parents Edward and Lucy, lives in Buffalo Grove.
Smith says he also considered Iowa State, Maryland and Illinois. Musselman, who's had head-coaching stints in the NBA with Golden State and Sacramento, directed Arkansas to a 20-12 record in his first season this past winter before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season.
Musselman is known as a coach who allows his players to have freedom offensively, while stressing defense first and foremost.
"I chose Arkansas primarily because I feel like their style of play really fits my abilities," Smith said. "They get up and down, they play more up-tempo, more prostyle basketball. Also, I really believe and trust Coach Musselman, their staff and what they're building down there. I really want to be a part of it."
Smith started as a sophomore on Stevenson's Class 4A state championship team in 2015. He was named captain of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team as a junior and senior, averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds per game in his final season, before heading to Bloomington in 2017.
His arrival at Indiana coincided with coach Archie Miller taking over IU's program.
"I loved my three years at IU," said Smith, who was named Indiana's male Scholar Athlete of the Month for last January and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore. "We had a good group of guys. I have no complaints. I got a good education. It was everything. So it was very, very difficult for me to leave, and it was a very tough decision for me to leave because I spent three years there helping build the program with Coach Miller and all my young teammates."
Smith is also regarded as a good athlete and defender who can guard wings and larger forwards. His 31 steals led Indiana this past season. After playing primarily at the "4" as a freshman and sophomore, he was used mainly at the "3" this past season.
"On the wing, at the '3,' is where I think I have my most upside," Smith said. "Through conversations with (Arkansas) they've been telling me that they will utilize me at that spot."