Before every basketball game, sophomore Jerret Smith reads Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Smith needed that strength following a concussion he suffered against Wisconsin on Jan. 24, which kept him sidelined for the Indiana and Ohio State road trips.
“In those kinds of situations, I can’t rely on anybody else except for the Lord to heal me, and that’s what He did,” Smith said. “He (willed) me to be able to come out here and play and to be able to improve my game each day.”
Smith’s play has improved and his recent success has led Michigan coach Tommy Amaker to start the Romulus native for the past five games of the season.
Over the second half of the Big Ten season, Smith has averaged 7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
His consistent play in the past month is a major reason why the Wolverines have been playing their best basketball of the season.
Over that time, Michigan has played rival No. 1 Ohio State close in two games, defeated then-No. 24 Indiana and beaten Michigan State at Crisler Arena.
“(Smith’s play) has given us a big turnaround and you can see a big difference in our play, especially these past couple of weeks,” senior Brent Petway said. “He’s really taking care of the ball for us and he’s really commanding us so we haven’t turned the ball over nearly as much as we had in the past.”
Before Smith’s injury, the Wolverines averaged 15.2 turnovers per game. That number has since dropped to 13.9.
Smith’s presence has also allowed senior Dion Harris to play at his natural position – shooting guard. With both Harris and Smith in the lineup regularly, Harris has scored two more points per game (15) than his season average (13).
“When we’re out (on the court) together, he’s always talking to me and telling me what we need to do as guards in the back court,” Harris said. “That’s definitely been a help to me. I don’t have to worry about having the ball as much (because) he does that well.”
While Smith’s recent accomplishments are being noticed by fans and the media alike, the soft-spoken sophomore deflects any credit.
During interviews, Smith often extols his teammates’ play on the court and praises God for blessing him with the opportunity to play at Michigan.
And, according to Smith, a Baptist, it’s his religion that has helped him become the player that he is today.
“It’s a blessing to be healthy and to be alive (until) this point in my life,” Smith said. “It’s all credit to God, because without him, I couldn’t do anything. Nothing is possible without Him. I give Him all the credit because through thick and thin, He’s always going to be there for me.”
Prior to this season, no one would’ve imagined that Smith would be a major contributor for the Wolverines. But heading into the Big Ten Tournament opener on Thursday, he’s one of the key players who can guide Michigan to postseason success.
“He’s leading our offense right now; he’s leading our team as far as playing the point guard position,” Harris said. “His play is as vital as anybody’s, seniors included. He’s probably the most important piece because he’s handling the ball . and taking care of the ball for us.”
Smith still has some work to do. He committed six turnovers against Ohio State, two of which occurred during Michigan’s meltdown in the final four minutes. And in the two losses prior to that, Smith committed more turnovers than assists.
But if the sophomore keeps his turnovers down, Michigan has a better chance to go deep into the Big Ten Tournament.
His opponents will pray he doesn’t.