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Mike Smith won't return to Michigan, will pursue professional career


The Wolverines will have a new starting point guard next season.

Grad transfer Mike Smith announced in an Instagram post on Wednesday that he will pass on the opportunity to return to Michigan for an extra season and will pursue a professional career.

“All my life I dreamed of playing in the NBA, but I have always been the underdog!” Smith wrote in his post. “I have always been told I was too small or that I wasn’t good enough to play at the next level. I never listened to them and I still don’t.

“No matter what anybody said, I kept working and betting on myself. I believe that we all have our own paths in life. It’s only right to continue to bet on myself and take that path and follow my dream of playing in the NBA. Next stop for me is the NBA Draft!”

Smith, who arrived after four seasons at Columbia, adapted to a new role and transformed his game under coach Juwan Howard, going from a high-volume shooter and scorer in the Ivy League to one of the top facilitators in the Big Ten.

As Michigan’s primary ball-handler, he averaged nine points and 5.3 assists, shot a career-best 41.8% from 3-point range and started every game. He finished the season with 149 total assists, a mark that led the Big Ten and ranked No. 13 in the country.

Above all, Smith won more in his one season in Ann Arbor than he ever did during his four years at Columbia. He put the team’s success before his individual stats and played a key part in the Wolverines capturing a Big Ten regular-season title, reaching the Elite Eight and finishing with a 23-5 record.

More: UM as high as No. 2, MSU No. 9 in way-too-early college hoops rankings

“Mike brought a lot to the team,” freshman center Hunter Dickinson said during Michigan’s NCAA Tournament run. “I think his performances speak for themselves. He's had really big games for us. Obviously, he's capable of scoring the ball. He was one of the leading scorers in the NCAA at Columbia. I think this year he really focused on trying to showcase that he can also lead a team and facilitate, too. I think you can't really do better than to lead your conference in assists. For him to do that, I think that speaks to his multidimensional game and how he's more than just a scorer.

“Coach Howard is always making jokes about how he did stuff at Columbia, how they weren't successful. I think he's done a really good job of transitioning to a winning program and I think he's really embraced it.”

Smith was able to come back for a sixth season if he wanted with the NCAA granting all Division I winter sport athletes an additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19. Instead, he opted to move on after racking up 1,906 points and 542 assists in his college career.

Smith’s announcement is one answer to the many offseason questions facing the Wolverines. They are waiting on decisions from Eli Brooks, Chaundee Brown and Austin Davis, the team’s other seniors who are all eligible to return. Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner are expected to follow Smith’s path, while Dickinson also could test the NBA Draft waters.

Michigan has a pair of point guard replacements on the 2021-22 roster in sophomore-to-be Zeb Jackson and incoming freshman Frankie Collins. If Brooks doesn’t return, the Wolverines could turn to the transfer portal to add an experienced option to the mix.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins