Justin Smith is leaving Indiana Basketball because he believes the grass will be greener somewhere else. Some believe where a kid plays is a bigger problem than who the player is, so it’s easier for them to project blame and move on than accept responsibility and hunker down.
A reckoning comes eventually for those who are responsible for their own woes. If Smith is one of those, he will learn from the choice he announced today. Many learn how to fight through adversity in college. Others learn how to fight through adversity because they failed to do it during their college years.
For those keeping track at home, Indiana and Purdue are now tied at two transfers each. Smith’s former Indiana teammate Damezi Anderson announced was leaving IU to attend Loyola a few weeks ago, and Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms left the Boilermakers earlier in the offseason for Michigan and Brigham Young respectively.
It’s up to athletes to figure out how to use their four years of eligibility, and these guys each felt they had a better chance to live their dreams elsewhere. After all, it’s a lot easier to change your address than your willingness to work through adversity.
There that word is again – adversity. Young people run from it like an elderly and overweight diabetic flees a mask-free man on a coughing jag at Kroger. Sadly, the ability to deal head-on with adversity is the very best outcome possible for athletes. That’s the good stuff – the character-building stuff that a great college experience instills.
Smith has always been gifted in a variety of ways. He’s exceptionally athletic and off-the-scale smart. His weakness, going back to his days at Stevenson High School in suburban Chicago, is consistently competing to his potential. Two-time national champion and current Dallas Maverick Jalen Brunson was a high school teammate of Smith’s. When I asked him about Smith, Brunson said, “Man, if the switch ever flips for Justin, watch out!”
The switch didn’t flip at Indiana, so the challenge of unlocking Smith’s potential will no longer frustrate Archie Miller. Another coach with a scholarship to give and a hole at the three will use Smith to his advantage – or try.
As is the case with Anderson, Haarms, and Eastern, we wish Smith the best and hope his visions of excellence come true – whether they are athletic or academic.
The ease with which players can transfer after they earn degrees has come under fire recently. Smith has earned his degree after three years, so he will enjoy immediate eligibility at his new school. Many would like to see a consequence – like a mandated red shirt year – that might discourage those who give serious thought to changing schools. Making transferring more difficult might encourage players to fight rather than fly.
I like the transfer rule as is. Legislating against freedoms that lead to a potentially bad decisions is not the business of the NCAA. If students earns degrees, their side of the bargain has been fulfilled and the freedom to use an immediate grad eligible year should be allowed. If it doesn’t work out, lesson learned.
Transferring is not always a good idea, but making mistakes is how we learn, whether we are 21-years-old or 81-years-old.
Smith will roll someplace else, play, study, and hopefully make the most of his new opportunity. And it’s up to those remaining at Indiana to excel despite Smith’s abdication as a senior leader with tremendous potential.
That’s life in college basketball. Some sink, and others swim; some fight, and others fly; some win, and others lose, some thrive because of their decisions, and others teach because of their mistakes.