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Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith declares for 2023 NBA Draft, intends to maintain college eligibility

Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith, the reigning West Coast Conference Sixth Man of the Year, declared for the 2023 NBA draft on Wednesday but intends to maintain the option of returning to college for a fifth year of eligibility.

A key reserve for the Bulldogs last season, Smith tested the draft waters once , following the 2021-22 season at Chattanooga, but withdrew his name from the draft before transferring to Gonzaga.

Multiple reports, including one from Chattanooga’s athletic website, indicated the guard entered his name for draft consideration following his 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons with the Moccasins, but Smith confirmed to The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday via text message he’d declared just one other time, in April 2022.

Smith’s agent, Michael Lelchitski of Sports International Group Inc., clarified Smith sent in his UAC (Undergraduate Advisory Committee) request to acquire NBA feedback following the 2020-21 season but did not formally declare for the draft.

Players are only able to enter the NBA draft twice while still maintaining their college eligibility.

A source close to Smith said that Gonzaga, Chattanooga and the NBA were addressing the guard’s eligibility on Wednesday, with a resolution possibly coming on Thursday.

“Every moment this season has been a blessing and I am grateful for the memories I have made that I will never forget,” Smith wrote on social media Wednesday while revealing his plans. “To my teammates and coaches thank you for welcoming me in to the Zag family from day one and pushing me everyday.

“To my family and support system, I want to thank you for all the countless prayers and continuing to stand by me every step of the way. I am grateful for the journey because it has prepared me for this moment.

“With that said I will be declaring for the 2023 NBA Draft.”

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard becomes the second GU player to declare this week after junior wing Julian Strawther announced his plans to enter the draft on Monday.

If Smith and Strawther both leave for the NBA, GU would lose five of the eight rotation members from a team that went 31-6, won the WCC Tournament and made the program’s eighth consecutive Sweet 16, advancing to the Elite Eight before losing 82-54 to eventual national champion UConn.

The Bulldogs are losing All-American forward Drew Timme and senior guard Rasir Bolton, while sophomore guard Hunter Sallis is expected to pursue options elsewhere after entering the NCAA’s transfer portal. Senior forward Anton Watson, who also has the option of using a fifth year of eligibility, hasn’t announced his plans for next season.

Smith, who sacrificed a starting role to play upon transferring to Gonzaga, was a key scorer and defender off Mark Few’s bench, averaging 8.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while logging 20.9 minutes per game.

The guard, who’s scored more than 1,600 career points, also led Gonzaga in 3-point percentage, making 50% of his attempts (45 of 90) in 2022-23.

Smith, a Belleville, Illinois, native who started his career at Wright State before earning SoCon Player of the Year and Lou Henson National Player of the Year honors at Chattanooga, scored a season-high 27 points on seven 3-pointers in Gonzaga’s 115-75 home win over Portland and scored 23 points against Portland State at the Phil Knight Legacy.

Smith was also responsible for one of the most important plays of Gonzaga’s season, prying the ball away from UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell in the closing seconds of the Bulldogs’ come-from-behind victory over the Bruins in the Sweet 16. Smith scored 14 points and added six rebounds in the game.