Mississippi State basketball got great news on Sunday when star center Tolu Smith announced his intentions to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to Starkville for his final year of eligibility.
Smith entered the Draft back in early April while maintaining his college eligibility. But after not being invited to either the NBA or G-League Combine, the widespread expectation was for Smith to announce his return to the Bulldogs. He made it official with this video on his Twitter.
The 2022-2023 season was a career-best for Tolu, averaging a team-leading 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Smith was one of the best big men in the SEC, leading the league with a 57.8% field goal percentage. He was named 1st-team All-SEC and won the Bailey Howell Trophy, awarded to the best men’s basketball player in the state of Mississippi.
Last season, Tolu was the lone consistent scoring threat for an anemic Bulldog offense. The lack of perimeter scorers to stress opponents allowed defenses to key in on him in the paint, making it all the more impressive that he put together the type of season he did.
Luckily for Tolu, Chris Jans addressed those concerns through the transfer portal with the addition of former Marshall guard Andrew Taylor. Taylor is the perfect compliment to Smith. Having a big-time scorer in the backcourt should only create better opportunities for Tolu in the post.
That combination along with all the other experience returning from last year’s team puts Mississippi State firmly in the mix as a SEC contender. And they absolutely are poised to reach the NCAA Tournament for a 2nd-straight year.
But it seems as though another program in the SEC was working to prevent that from happening…
Interesting that Tolu Smith would be viewed as a “potential UK front court target” when he had not entered his name into the transfer portal. Was there tampering going on? It sure sounds as though folks in Kentucky thought they could lure Smith to Lexington.
We’ll never know for certain, but I’d like to mark this up as a win for Chris Jans (and the Bulldog Initiative for that matter). Regardless, this is great news for Mississippi State basketball. The 2023-2024 season should be a fun one.
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