Archdeacon: Freshman point guard ‘really changes the game’ for Flyers

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Dayton Flyers highlights: Malachi Smith in ESPN Events Invitational in November 2021

The new look Dayton Flyers can thank an Old Testament prophet.

“My name’s from the Bible,” explained Malachi Smith. “It means messenger of God.”

The Flyers freshman guard said his mom, Sharika Rosado – whom he calls Ma Dukes Mama Love in much the same way the late rapper and hip hop producer, J Dilla, referred to his mom – picked the name.

In the Old Testament, Malachi is the last of the 12 Hebrew prophets.

“She wanted something unique,” Smith said with a smile.

And today – as everyone who follows UD basketball now knows – Mama Love got her wish.

With the 6-foot Smith taking fearless command of the point guard position, the young Flyers reintroduced themselves to the basketball world in Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday after a trio of hometown flops to start the season.

Dayton stunned everyone, including a lot of the Flyer Faithful who had little faith after the team lost three straight to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay at UD Arena, and won the ESPN Events Invitational on Sunday.

After knocking out the Miami Hurricanes, 76-60, in the Thanksgiving Day opener, the Flyers grabbed one of the most memorable victories in UD hoops history, topping No. 4 Kansas, 74-73, on Friday thanks to the game-long grit of Smith and that final, off-balance, high-lofted jumper by Mustapha Amzil at the buzzer that bounced off the rim and then the backboard before falling in.

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Dayton's Malachi Smith reacts as he's named the MVP of the tournament after a victory against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton's Malachi Smith reacts as he's named the MVP of the tournament after a victory against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

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Dayton's Malachi Smith reacts as he's named the MVP of the tournament after a victory against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Sunday, with Smith hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 in the final seconds, the Flyers defeated Belmont, 63-61, for the title.

Smith made 6 of 7 field goal attempts for 14 points – to go with six rebounds and seven assists – in the Miami win.

He went toe to toe with the Jayhawks’ bigger, more experienced guards the next day and finished with 10 points and a surprising defensive effort. He finished the tournament with another solid box score line against Belmont.

He was named the MVP of the tournament.

“They gave me a fancy box and inside was a watch that said Most Valuable Player on it,” Smith said.

His wrist, though, was unadorned when we spoke: “I’m not gonna wear it now. I’ll pull it out for good events only, just special occasions.”

And there will be plenty of special moments to come if Smith lives up to his prophecy.

Malachi the messenger had a couple for UD fans Monday afternoon, following a short night’s sleep after the team’s wee-hours arrival back on campus from Florida and then two early morning classes.

“My message is that I’m gonna play hard all day, every day. You’re gonna feel me. You’re gonna know I play with a lot of passion. You’re gonna know who I am.”

And no one agrees with that more than his teammate – fellow freshman and another star of the holiday tournament – 6-foot-10 DaRon Holmes II:

“He’s a guy every team needs. He’s a spark plug. He’s fiery and has a lot of energy. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a great point guard who has a sense of urgency like he does. He really changes the game for us.”

Flyers coach Anthony Grant had similar praise:

“He’s a young guy who plays with a lot of heart. You can tell he has confidence. He’s a New York kid. It looks like he’s been in big environments before.

“No moment is too big for him. He’s out there making plays for himself and for his teammates. The way he plays, everybody else feeds off him.”

After the Kansas game, Jayhawks coach Bill Self sought Smith out and commended him on his play.

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Dayton's Malachi Smith accepts the tournament MVP trophy after a victory against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Dayton's Malachi Smith accepts the tournament MVP trophy after a victory against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton's Malachi Smith accepts the tournament MVP trophy after a victory against Belmont on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in the championship game of the ESPN Events Invitational at HP Fieldhouse in Kissimmee, Fla. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

And then there was Dick Vitale – the iconic, 82-year-old broadcaster and former college coach and player – who called the UD games from courtside in Orlando.

Smith said he remembered when his older brother, Scoochie Smith, starred at UD. The Flyers made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances then and Vitale called some of those games.

“I remember him doing my brother’s games and I always wanted him to announce one of my games,” Smith said. “And when I saw him in Orlando, I was like: ‘Oh! I gotta perform this game. Dick Vitale is here!’

“We were in the same hotel as him and I saw him at the elevator late one night. We were just coming home and I was with our trainer, Mike (Mulcahey).

“I said, ‘Yo! That’s Dick Vitale over there! I’m getting on that same elevator.’ And when I got on, I didn’t say nothing to see if he knew me.

“And he looks up and says, ‘Oh, you’re the guard from the Bronx. Good game!’

“I was like, ‘You know me? You know my name? That’s crazy!’”

From NYC to Dayton

Smith grew up in the Edenwalk Houses, the largest housing project in the Bronx.

“It was rough,” he said. “It’s the Bronx. It was loud and some places there was fighting and stabbings and shootings. But I feel like (being around) that helped make me who I am today.

“My parents raised me differently and I didn’t want that type of life. I feel that’s a pretty risky way to go. I’ve seen a lot of my friends go that route and I didn’t like how it was looking for them.

“So I tried to do it the right way – with basketball. I figured hoopers would get a pass.”

He said his dad, Elliott Rosado – the founder of “Books & Ball,” an organization that specialized in educating youth through basketball – taught him the game, as did Casey Williams, his former coach, who he calls his uncle.

As for is mom, he said: “She gives me that fire. That passion.”

“When I was younger, I could hear her at games. She’d be up cheering and screaming and clapping and even with everybody else screaming, I heard just that one voice. Her voice. I used to be like ‘Ma, c’mon! You can’t be doing that!’ But now I like it. It fires me up.”

As a kid, he said he came to UD Arena to watch his older brother who started three years for the Flyers, scored 1,289 points and now plays professionally in Serbia.

“When he was a senior, I came and lived with him for a week,” Smith said. “All the other guys on the team – like Kendall Pollard, Jordan Sibert, Devon Scott and the rest – they treated me fine. I was like the little brother.”

Playing at St. Raymond High School for Boys in the Bronx and with the Gauchos AAU team, the little brother grew into the top-ranked point guard in NYC two years ago.

The Flyers landed him, thanks to the recruiting effort of UD assistant coach Ricardo Greer, a fellow New Yorker, and Grant.

Smith said the fact that his brother had played at UD had little bearing in his decision:

“I wanted a place where I felt comfortable.”

His final prep season was cancelled by COVID and then he missed six weeks of the Flyers preseason with an injury.

In the opener against UIC – with his dad in the stands – he came off the bench and played just eight minutes.

He admitted: “Just 8 minutes, I was a little (mad).”

But he said he stayed focus and kept his mouth shut:

“My Pops and my Uncle Casey said: ‘Stay locked in. The road’s going to get bigger. Stay the course and everything’s gonna play out.’”

Hero’s welcome

The Flyers return from Orlando was delayed nearly two hours and the team bus didn’t pull into campus until 1:15 a.m. Monday.

“I saw all these people running and I was like ‘What’s going on?’ Then I saw the Dayton shirts,” he said of the reception the team got from a crowd of UD students. “I was like, ‘No way! This is crazy!.’”

He got off the bus to a hero’s welcome and took a selfie with the crowd.

By 8 a.m. he was in his English class and that was followed by a 9 a.m. biology class.

“Some of my classmates and my teachers said: ‘Good job. We saw you on TV.’ Some said, ‘We love how you play.’ It was pretty cool.”

It will be the same reaction tonight when the Flyers return to sold-out UD Arena for a 7 p.m. game with Alabama State.

The last time the Flyers were at home – when they lost 87-81 to Austin Peay – they saw many of the fans in the lower arena leave early.

By the next morning the Flyers’ fan website was filled with the always anonymous know-it-alls calling for Grant’s firing.

“Yeah we saw all that and read some of it,” Smith said. “We didn’t let it affect us. We listened to Coach Grant and it worked out.”

And that brings us to his other message to UD fans:

“Don’t leave early. Please don’t. We don’t want those no more. We’re a good team.”

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