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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Chattanooga's Malachi Smith (13) drives to the basket past Western's Kameron Gibson (14) and Matt Halversen (2). The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs hosted the Western Carolina Catamounts in men's Southern Conference basketball at McKenzie Arena on February 17, 2021.

When deciding to transfer from Wright State to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in May of 2019, Malachi Smith let his faith guide his decision.

So it's no surprise that he's letting his faith order his steps as far as future decisions he's about to make.

Wednesday evening, the Mocs' 6-foot-4 sophomore guard announced that he would be entering his name in the NBA Draft without hiring an agent, becoming the first Moc to test the process since Malachi London did it after the 2017-18 season, head coach Lamont Paris's first in Chattanooga.

"It says a lot about the quality of player we have here," Paris told the Times Free Press recently. "I want guys that are serious about making a professional career playing basketball, that are able to have that opportunity and have worked hard to get that opportunity. Being a professional basketball player doesn't start when you start getting a check, it starts well before that.

"I'm excited for him to just get an opportunity to be evaluated by those guys and then knowing what you need to work on when you come back."

By not hiring an agent, Smith has the ability to pull his name out and maintain his college eligibility. With the NCAA giving athletes a free year essentially, Smith still has three seasons of eligibility remaining and would be a huge piece for a team that is expected to return almost all of its players, minus junior guard Trey Doomes and sophomore forward Prosper Obidiebube, who have entered the NCAA transfer portal.

"At the end of the season, I just looked over everything about how my season went," Smith told the Times Free Press recently. "Obviously it didn't end the way I wanted to, but you know, there's a plan and everything happens for a reason. That's how I look at it, God is preparing me for something and just looking back at the season I had, it could have been better but I feel I had a great season to build off of. Then listening to my heart and just listening to my family and my coaches, this was something that was realistic for me, so I thought why not hear what they have to say.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Mocs guard Malachi Smith (13) dribbles the ball down court during the basketball game between The University of Chattanooga Mocs and the East Tennessee State Buccaneers at McKenzie Arena on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"You never know what could happen."

Smith was a coaches' first-team All-Southern Conference selection in his first year suiting up for the Mocs, averaging a team-best 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the 18-9 Mocs. He shot well from the field (46%), from 3-point range (38%) and from the free-throw line (80%) while noting that he can get better from all spots.

Entering the SoCon tournament, Smith had been one of four players to play in every game this season as UTC went through quite the roster carousel. It finally caught up to him as he found out right before the tournament that he would be unable to play as a result of being in close contact with someone who had COVID-19. Senior forward Darius Banks had to miss the game as well, and the Mocs ultimately fell 63-53 to East Tennessee State in the quarterfinals.

As a big-bodied guard who rebounds well, improved as a defender and shoots well from all three levels, there could be a place for Smith in the league at some point. It may or may not be this draft, but that's what getting feedback is for.

"There's nothing you can say I can't do," Smith said. "I can either try to improve on it — I can be a better ball-handler, I can be a better defender — but it's not, 'Well, he's too short to guard wings.' I can guard a wing, I can hold my own against a big, and I can guard a point guard. I can do all three."

So what would it take for Smith to stay in the draft?

"Anything guaranteed," he replied quickly. "It's always hard to try to promise stuff, but anything guaranteed. I think I would have to have another conversation with my coaches and family even after the process.

"But no matter what, there's no complacency with me. It's all gas, no brakes. That's how I look at it."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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