Why Deivon Smith picked Georgia Tech out of the transfer portal

Mississippi State guard Deivon Smith (5) handles the ball against Richmond during the first half of the NIT semifinals Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Denton, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Credit: AP

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Mississippi State guard Deivon Smith (5) handles the ball against Richmond during the first half of the NIT semifinals Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Denton, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Credit: AP

Without so much as a phone call or text message, Jose Alvarado has proven a persuasive recruiter for Georgia Tech.

With every steal, hustle play and 3-pointer made this past season, the Yellow Jackets’ All-ACC point guard communicated a convincing message to recruits about why they should strongly consider following his path to Tech.

As he considered his transfer options, Deivon Smith was paying attention. Having decided to leave Mississippi State after one season, the former Grayson High star elected to put his future in the hands of the coaching staff that transformed Alvarado from a prospect who attracted no other ACC scholarship offers into the conference’s defensive player of the year.

“Seeing what they did with him, how they developed him, Mike Devoe and other guards, I feel like I could buy into their system and I could be successful just like him,” Smith told the AJC.

It will require effort and time, but there’s no reason to think it couldn’t happen. In bringing in Smith, whose transfer became official April 26, coach Josh Pastner has added a guard who was a top-70 prospect at Grayson (247Sports Composite) and whose 1.7 assist/turnover ratio was among the highest in the SEC and came close to matching Alvarado’s 2.0 this past season.

In watching Alvarado, “I’ve seen flashes of myself, stuff I do, stuff all point guards should do – defense, plays hard, hits open shots, gets his teammates involved,” Smith said. “But I feel like I can do the same thing (as Alvarado) with a little bit more athleticism.”

Pastner vouched for Smith’s physical tools.

“Deivon, he’s an elite athlete, especially at his position,” Pastner said. “I think the key is going to be we’re going to need a great job of developing his skill to match his athleticism. I think that’s going to be important.”

Pastner does like a lot about his game, though, starting with his speed and explosiveness, rebounding (especially for a player listed at 6-foot-1) and his assist/turnover ratio.

“He’s fast downhill, very fast downhill,” Pastner said. “So for the future, guys like him and Kyle (Sturdivant) together give us great speed.”

For Smith, it is a return home and what he hopes will be a better fit.

“Being in Mississippi did make me miss home and appreciate it more, but I wasn’t concerned about coming home, but it just ended up working out that way,” he said. “It was the best fit.”

Smith spoke well of his experience at Mississippi State. He said he became a better player, learned a lot and “was around a great group of guys,” but ultimately decided he needed to be elsewhere.

“I had to be somewhere that was going to help me succeed and help my family,” he said.

Smith was highly familiar with the Tech coaching staff, as Pastner made a concerted effort to recruit Smith out of Grayson. With the Bulldogs this past season, Smith started eight of their 33 games, but mostly played regular minutes off the bench. In 22.5 minutes per game, he averaged 5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He shot 33.9% from the field and 27.9% from 3-point range, numbers that will need improvement.

When Tech assistant coach Julian Swartz reached out to Smith when he went in the portal on March 31, it was a voice Smith knew well. At first, Smith said, Swartz wasn’t even really directly recruiting him.

“He was catching up, seeing where I was at,” Smith said. “And then it went to a recruiting point after a couple conversations with coach Pastner.”

Kansas, Texas Tech and Memphis were among other schools to show interest. Smith said Pastner was straightforward with him, breaking down his game and telling him what he did well and where he needed improvement, such as winning 50-50 balls and playing defense with intensity at all times.

“He’d just shoot me straight at all times, that’s what I would say,” Smith said.

In this recruitment, Pastner had more than a breakdown and development plan to offer. Having players like Alvarado and ACC player of the year Moses Wright to point to, along with a conference championship, has made recruiting significantly easier than it was previously, according to Pastner.

That progress “has allowed us to be involved in some really good prospects that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to be involved in beforehand,” Pastner said.

Smith’s own experience attested to the change.

“The relationship was good, and then the development they showed me and what I could do in the backcourt really sold me,” Smith said.

Smith said he still would have been interested in Tech had the Jackets not made the NCAA Tournament, but still said it was “real big” in his decision to pick the Jackets.

Smith joins a roster he knows well. He knows, among others, forwards Rodney Howard and Jordan Meka and guards Bubba Parham, Michael Devoe and Sturdivant. If the roster includes Alvarado – who is planning to turn professional, but has left the door open to return – that’s O.K. with Smith, who has four years of eligibility remaining.

“I’m hoping for more opportunity,” Smith said, “but if he has to come back and do what’s best for him, I don’t see a problem. I’ll play with him.”

As he seeks to learn to play point guard, having a close-up look at Tech’s development paragon can’t hurt.

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