Coming out of high school in Chico, Calif., Sterling Smith didn't have any Division I basketball offers. After spending a year at a prep school in upstate New York, Smith had just two and chose Coppin State after former longtime coach Fang Mitchell saw the 6-foot-4 shooting guard play in a tournament in New Jersey.
Things were much different after Smith was recently granted his release from Coppin State following his junior year. Expected to graduate this spring with a degree in criminal justice, Smith began a whirlwind tour of higher-profile programs with a trip to Wake Forest earlier this week and to Rutgers this weekend.
It could get even more interesting next week when Smith is expected to visit Pittsburgh on Monday and Louisville on Wednesday. The interest from "between 20 and 30 schools," according to Smith, came after he made nearly 42 percent of his 3-point shots last season for the 8-23 Eagles.
"I'm a shooter, basically," Smith said Friday. "I want to go to a winning program and to a team that can use my talents for shooting."
Former Coppin State assistant Emeka Chiazor said he thinks Smith is more than just a shooter. Chiazor, now an assistant coach at Howard Community College, is helping Smith with his transfer.
"He's always been a hard worker," Chiazor said. "He's a gym rat. He's a great shooter, a great defender and he rebounds well at his position [including five per game this season]."
Smith said he has received "a lot more attention" than he did coming out of high school or even prep school at Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, N.Y.
Among the phone calls he received recently was one from Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who is considering a number of graduate transfers, including Damion Lee (Drexel, Calvert Hall).
"When you hear the name Louisville and Coach Pitino, it's definitely a big eye-opener," Smith said. "I want to go where I can play. It's my last year and I don't want to sit on the bench. I want to come in and play and win.
"I'm looking at whether they're missing a shooter, is there a spot with productive minutes? I'm talking to the coaches and looking at their relationship with the players. I'm soaking it all in when I go on my visits, but definitely Louisville is a pretty good attraction, a big-time program."
Smith said he will be following Lee, who said recently that he will be visiting Louisville this weekend before going on to visit Arizona. Smith said he is not considering Maryland, which has been in contact with Lee. Chiazor said he spoke briefly with Terps assistant Bino Ranson about Smith.
"He [Ranson] told me they're pretty heavy at the shooting guard position and if he [Lee] came he would take that role of being like the Dez Wells of that team," Chiazor said. "I definitely thought and I still do think they have a chance of getting Lee, just the fact that he's a Baltimore kid and would be playing close to home."
Smith said he began thinking about transferring last year when Mitchell was fired after 28 seasons and Michael Grant was hired.
"When I spoke to the new coach, I thought coming back would be cool," Smith said. "I wanted to play for him. When I decided to leave this year, it wasn't because of the coaches, I just wanted to play at a higher level. We're still on good terms and everything."
Grant could not be reached for comment.
Smith started believing he could play at a higher level when he scored a then-career-high 21 points in a road win at Oregon State during his sophomore year.
While neither he nor Coppin State could repeat that early season road magic this season — the best Smith could muster against a Power Five conference team was 12 points against both Notre Dame and Connecticut — Smith got hot during the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference season.
In a stretch of eight games from late January to late February, Smith averaged nearly 22 points per game and shot better than 60 percent from the field, including a career-high 28 points against Norfolk State and 27 against Savannah State and Delaware State.
Chiazor said he thought Smith could have played at a mid-major coming out of prep school, but was pressured into signing quickly with Coppin State by Mitchell. Chiazor said he believes Smith is ready for a bigger challenge, whether it's in the Atlantic Coast Conference (Louisville, Pittsburgh or Wake Forest} or Big Ten (Rutgers).
"I felt and Fang probably felt that if he wouldn't have committed to Fang right away that he would have had some better offers," Chiazor said. "Him going to the higher level now doesn't really surprise me. …I really think he could play anywhere that he puts his mind to it."