Mike Smith is a long way from Columbia now.
It’s true on the court. Playing basketball at Michigan against opponents like Maryland and Michigan State is a massive step up from Ivy League matchups against Dartmouth and Brown.
But it’s just as true off the court. Smith is now attending graduate school at a university 600 miles from his undergraduate alma mater. And Ann Arbor is but a whisper of New York City’s constant shout.
On the court, Smith seems to be making his transition gracefully.
Off the court, Smith has been getting by with a little help from an old friend.
Jaron Faulds was a freshman at Columbia during Smith’s sophomore season, during which the two became friends. So when Faulds decided to come to Michigan as a walk-on transfer the following season, Smith did everything he could to be supportive.
“I was sad to see him go,” Smith said in a Zoom call Tuesday. “He played a lot and he had a big impact for us. But he didn’t want to be there anymore so I couldn’t — I’m his friend, so I had to understand what he does is what’s best for him. I have to understand that as a teammate, and as a friend and I respect it.”
But the two stayed in touch. Smith even visited Faulds last February when the Wolverines played Rutgers in New York. With one more year of NCAA eligibility left, Smith sent a cheeky message back with Faulds: “Tell coach Howard I say ‘what’s up.’ ”
A few months later, Howard actually followed up and contacted Smith. With Zavier Simpson graduating, Howard had an opening at point guard and was interested in the experience Smith could bring to the role.
Plenty of other schools were on his trail too and made offers to Smith. Weighing different options for his graduate transfer, Smith turned to an inside source: Faulds.
“I ended up asking Jaron, do you think I would fit here?” Smith said. “He said yeah, you would fit in right with the guys. You have that outgoing personality, and X is gone next year, so you have a chance to actually play — I think you’re good enough.
“He said that! ‘I think you’re good enough,’ I was like you think? Come on man, you know, you know I’m good enough. But he was just joking — that’s what we’re like.”
Smith ended up committing to Michigan on April 10 and leaned on Faulds for help with the move. Now, they’re next-door neighbors and excited to play together again.
“He lives right next door to me, and we get to talk about the old times that we had at Columbia, so it’s fun,” Smith said, grinning. “Not everybody else knows about that.”
Although Smith and Faulds may be far from the place where they first met, their ability to connect on a unique shared dimension is helping to ensure Smith’s smooth transition to life in Ann Arbor.
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