Rising senior forward Justin Smith announced he will be leaving IU as a graduate transfer in an IU men’s basketball team statement Friday morning.
Smith led IU in minutes last season and started all 32 games.
“I support his decision and wish Justin and his family all the best in this next chapter,” IU head coach Archie Miller said in the statement. “I’m proud of his growth as a person, he’s a great young man and has been a terrific role model off the court and in the classroom. He obtained his degree from IU’s Kelley School of Business and we thank him for all his contribution to Indiana University and our program.”
Smith was expected to remove his name from the NBA Draft and return to an IU team and thus have all five starters back. IU is now back to 11 scholarship players with two open spots remaining. IU had 11 scholarship players in the 2019-20 season.
Now with Smith electing to transfer, there is a significant hole in IU’s lineup. Smith was one of IU’s best and most versatile defenders, able to guard virtually any position on the floor. He also was tied for second on the team in rebounds last season and in points scored.
Smith’s departure creates a question of how Miller wants to organize his team next season. In the 2019-20 season, Miller had talked about using a three-guard lineup but never had a clear path to putting three guards on the floor.
With Smith gone, Miller could have a clear path to getting recent signee and five-star guard Khristian Lander on the floor. There wasn’t an obvious route for IU’s top incoming freshman to get into the starting lineup with all five starters returning.
Positionally, rising redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter is also a candidate to replace Smith in the starting lineup. Hunter is IU’s most productive returning small forward, though that production was never sustained over a large number of games.
Rising redshirt junior forward Race Thompson will also see an increased role for his rebounding, and incoming freshman forward Jordan Geronimo will have more minutes than anticipated in his first year.
Smith’s role in the lineup was polarizing for many IU fans, but there is suddenly a large void in an IU lineup that has no real immediate answer to replacing his production. Miller will now have more flexibility in his starting lineup, and unlike last season where there seemed to be a clear starting five, it may take a few weeks of the upcoming season to figure out what the new best combination will be.