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Staff file photo / The likelihood of seeing Malachi Smith in a UTC basketball uniform again decreased even more Wednesday, when the SoCon player of the year put his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

Although Malachi Smith had recently entered his name into consideration for the NBA draft, he hadn't put his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

That was enough to provide just a glimmer of hope for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball fans that the team's best player would return for another season.

That changed Wednesday morning, when the 6-foot-4 point guard essentially opened the recruiting market for the Southern Conference player of the year by putting his name in the portal four days before the May 1 deadline. Although players can remain at their current program after doing so — and some have — it's yet another indication Smith's return to the Mocs is unlikely.

He is coming off a dominant season in which he averaged 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the regular-season and conference tournament champions. He shot 50% from the field, 41% from 3-point range and 82% from the free-throw line, all improvements from the previous season.

While the chance of Smith coming back to try to help the Mocs repeat as SoCon champs and perhaps improve on their NCAA tournament showing isn't completely gone, nobody close to the situation has ever felt that was the likely outcome.

One factor is that the Mocs are under new management, with Dan Earl recently succeeding Lamont Paris, who is now at South Carolina.

Earl has been busy since taking over as the new head coach in Chattanooga, adding All-SoCon first-team forward Jake Stephens and SoCon all-freshman guard Honor Huff, with both from Virginia Military Institute, the program Earl led the past seven seasons. Another addition is 6-foot-4 guard Jamal Johnson, who was most recently at the University of Alabama at Birmingham after previously playing for Memphis and Auburn.

Stephens' inclusion on the 2022-23 roster had already been announced by UTC, and Johnson's addition was made official Wednesday. Each has one season of eligibility remaining.

"We are excited to welcome Jamal to the Chattanooga family. He has proven that he can make an impact at the high-major college level," Earl said in a UTC release. "Jamal has great size for the guard position and is an excellent three-point shooter. The Chattanooga community will love him both on and off the court."

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UAB Athletics photo / Former UAB guard Jamal Johnson (11), who has also played at Memphis and Auburn, will join coach Dan Earl's first UTC team for the 2022-23 basketball season. UTC announced Johnson's addition Wednesday, the same day Mocs point guard Malachi Smith put his name in the NCAA transfer portal.

Johnson's most productive college season was at Auburn in 2020-21, when he ranked third in Southeastern Conference games only with 2.4 3-pointers made per game and averaged 9.4 points. He made 47 3s as a freshman at Memphis — he has 160 as a college player — and has started 42 games in his career.

Huff's signing has not been announced by UTC, and it's likely he will have to sit out the 2022-23 season as the SoCon is one of two conferences in the country (the Big South is the other) that doesn't allow transfers within the league to play immediately. The 5-foot-10 Huff averaged 10.0 points and 2.3 assists per game in his lone season at VMI, knocking down 52 3s at a 38% rate. He was actually at his best against the Mocs last season, averaging 22.5 points and making eight 3-pointers in the two contests.

With the additions and the likely departures of Smith and forward Jaden Frazier — who is also in the transfer portal — the Mocs still have four available scholarships for the 2022-23 season, so Earl's construction of his first roster is far from finished.

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

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