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Coppin State transfer Sterling Smith will play at Pittsburgh next season

Coppin State Eagles guard Sterling Smith (2) celebrates after a basket against the California Golden Bears on Nov. 9, 2013. Smith is transferring to Pittsburgh.
Coppin State Eagles guard Sterling Smith (2) celebrates after a basket against the California Golden Bears on Nov. 9, 2013. Smith is transferring to Pittsburgh. (Kyle Terada / USA Today Sports)

Sterling Smith will graduate from Coppin State on May 16 with a degree in criminal justice.

The former Eagles shooting guard will then begin his post-graduate career in major college basketball.

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The 6-4, 185-pound Smith, who averaged a team-high 13.9 points while making a shade under 42 percent of his 3-pointers as a junior last season, said Friday that he has committed to Pittsburgh for his senior year.

Smith chose the Panthers over Wake Forest and Rutgers, which he visited last week. Smith also visited Louisville, which received a commitment from Drexel transfer Damion Lee (Calvert Hall) while Smith was there Thursday.

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"It felt like it was the right fit," Smith said in a telephone interview. "I think it's the best place for me to play productive minutes and win."

Former Coppin State assistant coach Emeka Chiazor, who helped Smith in the search process for a new school, said that Smith should have no trouble moving up to an ACC program.

"With the facilities and the way Sterling will have access to the gym, I definitely think he's going to have a really good year next year," said Chiazor, who is now an assistant at Howard Community.

Smith and Lee are among many college players at mid-major or low-major program to take advantage of a rule the NCAA put in place in 2006 that allows athletes to transfer without sitting out if they have graduated and the school they attended doesn't have a graduate program they plan to pursue.

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Most players wind up picking the basketball program before figuring out what they're going to study.

There has been speculation that the NCAA is going to tighten the graduate transfer rule as well as giving hardship transfer waivers to players in order to cut down on the number of players switching programs. According to ESPN.com, there were over 700 players who transferred in 2014.

"If you can graduate in three years and want to play your final year somewhere else, I don't think there's anything wrong with it," Smith said. "As it is, kids leave every year without graduating college. The ones that do graduate, I don't think there should be any penalty. It makes the NCAA look good because there are more playing graduating college."

Smith, who spent a year at a prep school in upstate New York before coming to Coppin State after not receiving a single Division I offer out of high school in Chino, Calif., said there are many players like him at smaller programs. Richaud Pack started most of the season at Maryland after playing at North Carolina A&T and Florida International.

"There's a lot of players like that in the MEAC, maybe they got overlooked or ended up at a smaller institution and saw they could play at a higher level," said Smith, who as a sophomore scored 21 points in a road win at Oregon State. "Fortunately I was in the right position for my senior year and took advantage of it."

The opportunity arose when Pittsburgh shooting guard Durand Johnson (Lake Clifton) left Pittsburgh after being suspended for breaking school policy right before the start of last season.

Panthers coach Jamie Dixon announced last week that Johnson was going to transfer for his senior year. Sophomore Chris Jones, who averaged 8.5 points as a sophomore, is the only other shooting guard in the rotation.

"We'll work that out when I get up there," Smith said. "It doesn't matter who starts and who comes off the bench. Me and him will definitely play quality minutes."

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