Until he moved out to Utah a few months ago, Jeff Smith had hardly ever set foot out of the state of Michigan.
Before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Utah under coach Jim Boylen, Smith worked at four different colleges in Michigan. Smith joined Boylen's staff last spring along with Chris Jones and Marty Wilson, who were both assistants under former coach Ray Giacoletti.
The 35-year-old Smith met Boylen a couple of years ago and "jumped" at the chance to join him in Utah after being an assistant coach at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., for the past five years.
"I told him I'd follow him to Antarctica because I have that much respect for him and how he goes about things," Smith said. "People ask me why I'd leave Michigan and go out to Utah. It's an easy answer. It's because of Jim Boylen."
Smith grew up in Carson City, an hour north of Lansing, where he was a three-sport athlete in high school. He played for two years at Alma College in the middle of the state before blowing out his knee. That led to his coaching career as he became a student assistant at Alma before moving on to Albion College, a strong Division III program.
Next it was on to Central Michigan, where he recruited current Los Angeles Clipper center Chris Kamen and helped develop his game. Then he spent the past five seasons at Oakland, the highlight coming in 2005 when Oakland won the NCAA play-in game and went up against North Carolina.
Smith met Boylen when Boylen was an assistant with the Houston Rockets, and the two quickly developed a friendship.
"He actually put me through a workout," Smith said. "It drew me to him right away because of his passion to teach the game."
They kept in touch and after Boylen got the Ute job last March, the two got together in Atlanta at the Final Four. That's when Smith was offered the job at Utah.
"I believe in him that much and how he does things," Smith said. "There's no ego to him. I really have a lot of respect for him. When this opportunity came up I jumped at it. I can't tell you how excited I am to be here in Utah with him and the rest of our staff. They've just been great."
Boylen said he chose Smith for several reasons, including his "toughness" and "humility" and because he's a "very good recruiter."
"He has a passion for the game and has a defensive mind-set," Boylen said. "He's focused in and understands the level of responsibility and ownership we need to get with this program."
Smith recently became engaged and he and his fiancee, Alison, who moved from Michigan and works in the U. athletic department, are planning a May wedding. He bought a house in Sugar House after finally selling his home in the depressed Michigan home market.
When he's not coaching basketball, Smith, like Boylen, loves to play golf. He also likes to work out every day and calls himself a jogger, not a runner.
But basketball is nearly an all-consuming aspect of Smith's life.
"I can't ever imagine being a part of a more rewarding profession," he said. "Every day I think about how we're going to defend, how we're going to recruit and how we're going to make our players better. Those three things are consistent every day."
Now that he's here, the lifelong Michigan resident has come to love his new job and his new residence."It's been tremendous," he said. "It's a beautiful place. People are passionate about Utah basketball. I'm thankful for the opportunity Jim has given me here, and I don't take the responsibility lightly. I think I've found a very special place."
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