When a coaching change at Georgia Tech and other factors led to Deivon Smith seeking a “fresh start” in April, one of the last destinations on the 6-foot-1 guard’s mind was Utah.

“I could honestly say that I never thought I would ever live in Utah,” he said.

Sure, Smith was somewhat familiar with the Runnin’ Utes, because he scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in a 68-64 loss to Utah at the Fort Myers Tip-Off last November. But he never envisioned “heading out West” for his final two seasons of eligibility on April 10 when he entered the transfer portal.

“It was amazing. The mountains, the city, the people, just the peace it brings. I think it is real heavy on peace out here. I wouldn’t say there is not a lot going on, but there is just enough.” — Utah transfer guard Deivon Smith

Then he got a call from Utes assistant DeMarlo Slocum, and after that, a call from head coach Craig Smith. He was overwhelmed by Utah’s immediate interest, and took the coaches up on their offer to visit Salt Lake City.

“Utah was the first school to call me, actually, which was surprising to me, and they recruited me pretty hard,” Smith told the Deseret News Tuesday. “I ended up taking my official visit here, and that kinda solidified it.”

Smith said he was hosted by center Branden Carlson and guard Gabe Madsen on his official visit, “their two main pieces from last year, and that gave me a great vibe and made my decision way easier to come here.”

He said the returning cornerstones of the program showed him around campus, got a few shots up with him, and took him to dinner. He was also impressed with the cleanliness and beauty of Salt Lake City.

“It was amazing,” he said. “The mountains, the city, the people, just the peace it brings. I think it is real heavy on peace out here. I wouldn’t say there is not a lot going on, but there is just enough.”

The only other school Smith visited was High Point University in North Carolina, he said.

He committed to the Utes on May 12, signed a few days later, and arrived last week a day after the team began official workouts. 

“We are excited to welcome Deivon Smith to our Runnin’ Utes family,” Craig Smith said in a school news release. “Deivon is one of the most electric athletes in the country, with incredible vision, leadership, toughness and experience.

“He is also a fantastic rebounder at the guard position. There is no doubt that our fans will instantly love the way he plays. We can’t wait to have him join us for the upcoming season.”

A four-star recruit out of Grayson High in Loganville, Georgia, Smith began his college career at Mississippi State and saw action in all 33 games for the Bulldogs, who reached the NIT championship game in 2021.

He transferred to Georgia Tech for his sophomore and junior seasons, and started in 13 games last year, averaging 7.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists. The Yellow Jackets replaced Josh Pastner with former Pacific coach and NBA star Damon Stoudamire on March 13, and Smith decided to leave Atlanta a month later.

“I just needed to get a fresh start,” he said. “… I see it as an opportunity for me to get in a better situation, a better environment.”

Although he’s played three years, Smith has two years left because of the free year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19’s impact on the 2020-21 season.

What’s his plan?

“I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “If I need to take it, of course I will. I will use it to my advantage. I am just taking it as it goes. If it is God’s plan and it is time for me to go and pursue a pro career, then I will. But if I need to stay and get better, I will definitely use it.”

Smith brings some much-needed athleticism to Utah’s roster, as coach Smith mentioned.

At Georgia Tech, he was known for his quickness, leaping ability and sneaker collection, which he said has almost reached 75 pairs. His love of sneakers is why his Twitter handle is @sneakgod and his Instagram handle is @luhsneak.

Smith said his two-step vertical leap is 45.5 inches, and his standing vert is 33 inches. He first dunked a basketball when he was in the eighth grade, at age 14. He’s worn jersey No. 5 since he could remember, and will wear it at Utah because previous owner Jaxon Brenchley has transferred to Denver.

“I would describe myself as a winner. I try to do everything to get a win. I would say I play hard, and I am going to give it my all,” he said. “If I need to play defense the whole game, I will. If I need to get 10 rebounds, 10 assists, score points, I will. I just want to be able to fill the stat sheet in any way that I can to help the team win.”

Smith said he is a “mixture” of both point guard and combo guard.

“I feel like when it comes down to it, I can get a bucket whenever. I can also get my teammates involved. I really feed off that. I get energy seeing my teammates do well and everybody doing well on the court,” he said.

“It just gives me a spark for me to go get a bucket or play defense. It just makes me happy.

“My goal is always to get 10 assists, for double-double reasons, and rebounds, but I just like to play the right way. I like to give my all on the court.”

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He acknowledges that Georgia Tech struggled the past two seasons he was there, going 15-18 last year and 12-20 in 2021-22. He was nagged by an ankle injury last year.

“The main thing is I just want everybody to know that I will do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “I am a winner at heart. I know my last two seasons haven’t really showed it, or last two environments — Mississippi State and Georgia Tech. But I feel like once I am on the platform with the right coaches and the right players, like how I feel here at home, just welcome, I feel like the sky is the limit.”

The additions of Smith, SLCC transfer Hunter Erickson, Colorado transfer Lawson Lovering, Washington transfer Cole Bajema and returned missionary and former BYU signee Jake Wahlin leaves the Runnin’ Utes with 12 scholarship players on the current roster.

Whether or not the staff adds an allowed 13th scholarship player remains to be seen — after Craig Smith chose not to fill the opening the past two years.

Fifteen players are on the current roster on the school’s website; junior guard Brandon Haddock and freshmen Ayomide Bamisile and Jerry Huang are walk-ons.