For now, Eric Smith remains in Columbia focused on finishing up his undergraduate degree at South Carolina, but he's already started envisioning his homecoming of sorts and the opportunity that awaits him in Conway.
After obtaining his release from the Gamecocks program last week, Smith has told the basketball coaches at Coastal Carolina that he intends to play out his final year of eligibility with the Chanticleers. And speaking by phone Thursday night, the veteran point guard and Mullins native said several factors fueled that decision.
“I just felt like it was a good move,” Smith said. “I had a good opportunity to finish up my degree at South Carolina toward the end of this summer and have an opportunity to play my last year at Coastal Carolina right in my back yard, right where I'm from and also start in the Masters program and work on that too.
”I just thought it was a good opportunity for me, and I feel I can have a big impact on their team. And I think coach Cliff Ellis is a great coach that can also help me reach my long-term goals.“
The short-term goal for the Chants, as it relates to Smith, is to fill the void left by departing four-year starting point guard Kierre Greenwood.
Smith, who first has to graduate from South Carolina this summer before he can enroll as a graduate student at Coastal and join the Chants, will have redshirt-freshman Ron Trapps and junior college transfer Deonte Houston to compete with for the starting job, but with 40 career starts for an SEC program he boasts the Division I experience neither of those players have yet.
”They told me the position is wide open, losing their point guard of four years,“ Smith said. ”[The CCU coaches said] that they have some young guys and they need a leader to come in, and they're going to put the ball in my hands and I'll be a good fit to run the show next year.“
Smith, who averaged 5.7 points and 3.1 assists in 27.7 minutes per game last season for South Carolina, said he also talked to South Alabama, Tulane, UNC Wilmington, Appalachian State and Florida Atlantic before deciding on Coastal as his next destination.
”There's definitely more opportunity there, potentially a bigger role and just a new start as well,“ he said.