Malik Smith, a 6-2, 170-pound guard originally from Boston, Mass. verbally committed to new Gophers coach Richard Pitino on Wednesday morning. Smith played for Pitino last season at Florida International, where the senior-to-be averaged 14.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game. Smith is Pitino's third commit (all guards) at Minnesota. Here is Smith on a number of subjects:
I know you had several other schools interested in you -- was it a tough decision to choose Minnesota in the end?
It wasn't tough at all. When I think about playing with coach Pitino again, it seemed like an easy transition coming from FIU and already playing in the system and already knowing the tendencies and him seeing my tendencies. So once I knew he was interested, I pretty much knew I was going to go.
When did he reach out to you?
Maybe about 2 or 3 weeks ago ... I just wanted to see all the schools that were interested and then compare each situation.
What originally drew you to playing for him?
He's a demanding coach, he's going to get the best out of you. His system works with anybody -- I think his system works with anybody. It's very up-tempo, fast-paced, a lot of pressing, a lot of shots and it's proven to work. Last year, we were picked to be (number) 11 out of 12 teams in the Sun Belt and we ended up being fourth I think and going to the conference championship game. So I'm sure he knows what he's doing and I think he'll do it again and turn things around at Minnesota.
What was last year like? The team had so many different players from all over the place, a new coach -- how was it trying to find chemistry?
The experience was good. Coach Pitino, he's not just recruiting good players, he's recruiting good people. So when I got there, I saw that everybody was good guys and everybody got along fine, so that made the transition easy. And then coach Pitino is going to make you work hard, so that wasn't a problem.
Was it a project to get everyone on same page with new system, etc?
It was just us getting used to the system. It was rough at first. The first couple scrimmages. But once we got used to pressing and knowing what coach wants, it was easy.
Did you just condition all the time to get in shape to do that?
A lot of conditioning with our strength and conditioning coach. And then on top of that, practice is just all up and down, up and down, up and down. So he's going to get us in shape in Minnesota. And I believe it's going to work out fine.
Do you feel like that's going to be one of your roles, already knowing the system, to help get guys transitioned?
Definitely. I think I'll be able to lead by example with plays, talking to guys, helping them understand it faster -- rather than coach having to tell everybody, I can help tell people what to do on the court.
Have you played mostly at the 2 or at point in your career?
Yeah, some of both, but at FIU, I played mostly 2 because we had a backup at the point guard position, we had about three point guards.
Do you have a preference in that regard or one that you feel more comfortable with? No, no preference. Whatever coach Pitino wants me to do, I'll do.
You haven't been to Minnesota yet, have you? No -- I think I'll be visiting up there in about 2 weeks, they said.
Have you talked to Pitino much about your role yet? No, we haven't gotten into it yet. We talk often, but we haven't gotten into depth about any of that.
How do you feel about playing in the Big Ten? That should be a pretty big adjustment.
I mean, yeah. It's a bigger stage, probably a lot better players. But my main thing is coming to Minnesota and trying to fit in and do what I can do to help the team win.
Are you close with Rakeem Buckles? Yeah definitely. Rakeem is my guy.
Are you going to be angling for him to join you at Minnesota now?
Haha, yeah, definitely. I'm going text him tonight and be like 'Rakeem ... let's make it happen."