He started living up to his name even before he was born.
“I was stationed in Florida when I found out I was pregnant with him,” Connie Smith said. “We were attending a church service and every time the pastor said, ‘Turn to the Book of Malachi,’ my son just kicked in my stomach.”
She said she got the message:
“I knew then that was going to be his name.”
Today, Malachi Smith is a 6-foot-3 freshman guard at Wright State.
“My mom wanted me to have a biblical name and it’s from the Old Testament,” the 18-year old Raider said. “Malachi means ‘My Messenger.’”
As Connie explained: “Faith is really important to us. And as ‘My Messenger,’ Malachi tries to deliver his message, to apply his story to every area of his life, on and off the court.”
And what message does she think her son might bring to Wright State?
“I think it has to do with hard work and a commitment to be part of a team that can go as far as it can,” she said.
Along with that Old Testament name, Malachi brings a well-traveled background and some serious basketball genes to his new team.
His mom served 12 ½ years active duty in the U.S. Air Force, including four years – with Malachi in tow – at Naval Station Rota, the Spanish naval base in Andalusia that is funded by the U.S. and is located on the Bay of Cadiz in the Atlantic Ocean.
His grandfather, Larry Knight, was a 6-foot-8 hoops star at Loyola University in Chicago in the late 1970s – part of the Ramblers All-Decade Team back then – and a first round pick of the Utah Jazz in 1979.
He led the Anchorage Northern Knights to the Continental Basketball Association title in 1980 and played pro ball for 12 years overseas.
“I’ve seen clips of him and heard some stories,” Malachi said after practice the other day. “It’s cool having someone I can look up to, someone I can try to live up to. He knows what it takes to get where I’m trying to go.”
“He did something in basketball I couldn’t do,” the 61-year-old Knight said by phone from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. “He won a high school ring.”
Last season, Malachi helped lead Belleville West High, an Illinois school 20 miles east of St. Louis, to the state 4A title, defeating Chicago’s Whitney Young, a four-time state champ, in overtime.
While his grandfather didn’t reach that lofty status while at Detroit’s Northeastern High, he soared when he got to college, first at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa and then at Loyola, where he remains one of the school’s all-time rebounding standouts. As a senior, he averaged 21.5 points and 14.3 rebounds a game. That includes a 25-rebound effort against Georgetown and a 37-point, 23-rebound performance in his final game against DePaul.
In the first round of the 1979 NBA draft — after Magic Johnson went No. 1 to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dayton Flyers’ Jim Paxson was the 12th pick by Portland — Knight was taken by the Jazz with the the 20th pick, ahead of guys like Sly Williams, Kyle Macy, Bill Laimbeer and Mark Eaton, all of whom went on to formidable NBA careers.
Cut from a Jazz team that would include Adrian Dantley, “Pistol Pete” Maravich, Terry Furlow and Allan “Disco” Bristow that season, he was briefly with the Reggie Theus-led Chicago Bulls and ended up in Anchorage, where he was part of the CBA title team that recorded the longest road trip in professional sports history.
With their nearest opponent 5,000 miles away, the Northern Knights went by bus around the contiguous United States, playing 16 games in 31 days.
Knight then played in Europe, primarily in Italy and France, and his daughter Connie remembers living overseas until the fourth grade:
“I was born the year my dad was drafted and I lived in France and Amsterdam when he played there. I saw a lot of his games.”
Connie said she and her husband, Courtney Smith, who was also in the military, divorced when Malachi was six and she raised their son on her own after that.
“She’s a master’s degree person, someone who’s really educated and accomplished,” her dad said. “She really, really did a good job with Malachi. She stayed after him and made him stay focused.”
In turn, Connie, now an executive assistant with Caleres, the global footwear company, said her dad and her son have bonded:
“Malachi has a relationship with my dad and he knows his history and his journey through basketball. The best thing is that my dad can impart nuggets for success – lessons he learned – about being smart on and off the court.”
‘Felt like home to him’
Coming out of high school, Malachi was recruited by Missouri State and got offers from the University of Denver, Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, Montana State and the Raiders.
Connie visited the WSU campus with her son and said she saw a connection right away: “You could see immediately it felt like home to him.”
Malachi agreed: “I slept on it and prayed on it, but honestly, in my heart it was Wright State from the moment I left.
“I loved the family feel and I got along with the coaches here better than anywhere else I visited. I feel I can talk to Coach Nagy, Coach Chambliss, Coach Cooley and Coach Sargent about anything.
“I feel like you can connect with them on a level bigger than basketball. And it’s the same with my teammates.”
He said some of the veteran players – especially Mark Hughes and Jaylon Hall – have taken him under their wings.
“When I call him on FaceTime, I see nothing but a smile,” said Connie. “That’s just the greatest reward for a parent.”
Malachi joins Loudon Love and Cole Gentry as Raiders players from Illinois.
“If you look at our team, we have a lot of players from Illinois,” Coach Scott Nagy said. “It’s been a good area for us to recruit. That’s where I’m from and we just know a lot of people over there.”
Nagy said he expects Malachi to play various guard positions this season: “He’ll back up some at the point and with him and Skyelar — (Skyelar Potter, a 6-foot-3 freshman from Bowling Green, Kentucky) — we feel we have two good guards we can bring in off the bench.”
Malachi is looking forward to the start of his college career, beginning with the Nov. 7 opener against Western Carolina at the Nutter Center, a game both his mom and grandfather plan to attend.
“My goal is for us to win the Horizon League and go on to the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “And for me personally, I want to do whatever is needed to help us win those games.”
The Raiders hope Malachi Smith lives up to his name.
They hope he’s the messenger for good times ahead.