Sunday, June 4, 2023

<p>Sophomore Davis Smith poses for a portrait at the Michigan State Men&#x27;s Basketball Media Day at the Breslin Center on Oct. 20, 2021.</p>

On Dec. 10, junior guard Davis Smith collected his first career points in the Spartans' contest against Brown. With 1:43 winding down on the game clock, Smith drove to the right of the basket and released a shot that hit the glass before falling through the net, putting the Spartans up by 13 and Davis on the stat sheet

Davis’s father, former MSU men's basketball All-American Steve Smith, was watching from his couch in Atlanta, Georgia. The alumnus screamed at the television as if his son had just beat the buzzer to win a national championship. He couldn't have been prouder

An accomplished high school basketball player, Davis Smith received college scholarship offers from a handful of schools, including Georgia State University, located just blocks away from his home. While he was thrilled to receive the offer, he was eager to venture away from Atlanta.

MSU head men's basketball coach Tom Izzo, who remained in contact with Steve and was familiar with Davis’s basketball skills, inquired about whether Davis would accept the Georgia State offer. Steve Smith told Izzo about his son’s interest in living away from home. He then reached out to Davis about the possibility of walking on at MSU.  

Izzo was confident that Davis had what it took to succeed as an MSU walk-on, though Davis thought the offer was one of nepotism rather than merit. Coach Izzo assured him that the offer reflected the potential that he recognized in the talented high school senior’s abilities

“I don’t think Davis was keen on it because he thought it was just, ‘Oh, my dad’s Steve Smith,’ but it wasn’t anything about that,” Izzo said.

After thoughtful deliberation with his dad and Izzo, Davis Smith decided to join the team that he grew up watching and become, first-hand, a Spartan.

“I was a die-hard Spartan fan,” Davis Smith said. “It was always a dream to be here.”

Growing up as a Spartan

As a kid, Davis Smith and his older brother Brayden always rooted for the Spartans, often traveling with their parents to MSU tournament games.  

Davis remembers the Armed Forces Classic back in 2011 when MSU fell to North Carolina. The young Spartan super fan recalls being crushed when his parents informed him that he wouldn’t be able to attend. Either he or his brother had a basketball game of their own, conflicting with the hoop's showdown early in the season.

Flash forward 11 years, Davis would trade in his tickets to the game on the naval ship for a spot in the lineup

“Me and my brother (Brayden) we started crying because we wanted to go so bad,” Davis Smith said. “To have them all out there this time, it was everything.”

Davis Smith is one of three Spartan walk-ons alongside senior guard Steven Izzo and freshman guard Nick Sanders. The three don't receive nearly as much playing time as regular rotation players but participate in practices and mandatory events just like everyone else on the roster

The three consistently poke jokes at one another, bonded by their fathers' celebrity status when it comes to collegiate and professional sports

Sanders is wrapping up his first season with the Spartans, a spot Davis was in not too long ago. Davis Smith has taken Sanders under his wing, leading him through the process

At times, it’s difficult for the three, especially with such easy access to online social media platforms where users can anonymously voice their opinions.

“I think social media hasn’t been kind to most kids,” Steve Smith said. “I’m sure it’s probably been a little tougher for him (Davis), Steven and Nick.”

The walk-on enjoyed his first two seasons as he continued to grow and navigate being a student athlete at a Big Ten school like MSU. However, Davis Smith was seeking more minutes.

Following his sophomore season, Davis Smith made a difficult decision to enter the transfer portal in hopes of transferring to a smaller school where he would receive more playing time. However, with his limited minutes during his first two seasons, he struggled to gain significant traction in the portal

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Eventually, Davis withdrew his name, remembering why he committed to MSU in the first place

While playing time was important to Davis, the relationships with his MSU teammates and coaches outweighed other options. Izzo said that he has grown considerably since his freshman year in 2020 and that his eventual scholarship earned in Oct. 2021 was well-deserved.

“He’s an unbelievable kid, he’s a good student and he’s been a (strong) leader,” Izzo said. “He wants to be a captain someday and that isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.”

Forging His Own Path

As much as Davis loves and respects his father, his goal upon entering college was to forge his own path at MSU. The task has been challenging considering his dad was Izzo’s first recruit as an assistant coach under former head coach Jud Heathcote

“I wanted to come here to create my own legacy not based off his,” Davis Smith said. “Everyone here has been treating me great since I’ve been here ... Coming here was a dream come true and it’s been a great experience.”

Steve Smith is the second MSU all-time leading scorer and was the first player to give back to MSU athletics with his contribution of the Clara Bell Smith Student Athlete Support Center, named after his late mother.

“I can never walk in his shoes, cause I never have,” Steve Smith said. “Having a dad that has his jersey retired and the relationship between me and Tom, I was his first recruit and Tom was one of my coaches … we laugh at it all the time. I'm like Tom, you're coaching Davis, either I'm old or you’re old but somebody’s old."

After all the community has gifted Davis, he decided it was time to make a difference off the basketball court. On Aug. 21, 2022, he orchestrated a back-to-school supplies drive for a local elementary school, the first of many.

The drive took place at none other than the Clara Bell Smith Center.

“Super proud of his initiative to give back to the school program ... he did that all on his own,” Steve Smith said. “It was all done at his grandmother’s building … For him to do that, that’s the young man I hoped he’d turn out to be.”

Although the father-son duo was already bonded, Davis’s time playing on the same home floor that his father broke in just 34 short years ago has brought the two that much closer.

“Seeing that little skinny kid in his uniform and me being that skinny kid the first time I put mine on,” Steve said. “I remember having that same look and feeling.”

There aren’t too many college athletics programs where the same head coach sticks around to coach a former player’s child. Izzo’s been fortunate to create and maintain relationships with both Steve and now his son, Davis

“It’s been strange because I want Davis to have success too,” Izzo said. “I appreciate that Steve comes back all the time. He’s a father but he’s an alumnus and I’m the guy who’s lucky. I got his son, got him for four years and now I have both of them for a lifetime.”

As the 2022-23 season comes to a close, Davis is looking forward to what his senior season has in store, and continuing to create his own legacy as a Spartan.

“As many people can tell this is my home,” Davis Smith said. “It was hard for me to leave this program and my friends and teammates. In the end, I'm just glad that I made that decision.”