Player Preview: Mark Smith
Smith is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound combo guard out of Edwardsville (IL) High School. Smith, a four-star who burst into national recognition his senior year, held multiple offers from schools like Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State. Tom Izzo came late onto the scene, and really felt like Illinois’ competition when it came to landing Smith.
What He Did Last Year:
Mark Smith came from almost out of nowhere last year and conjured up the most impressive basketball season in the state of Illinois. When Illinois pictured landing Mr. Basketball last year, most probably would’ve guessed Jeremiah Tilmon, or perhaps Jordan Goodwin. Smith actually knocked off both of these guys en route to Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois. He finished with averages of 21.9 points, 8.4 assists, and 8.2 rebounds, along with 14 double-doubles and two triple-doubles.
How Does He Fit into Underwood’s System:
Ultimately, Smith’s decision came down to Underwood’s plan that he laid out. Smith wanted to be the first guy in the change that Illini nation has been looking for. “I want to make my state proud. I want to join the likes of Dee Brown, Brian Cook, Deon Thomas, Frank Williams and other Mr. Basketballs that have chosen to stay in state,” said Smith.
Smith is a big, stocky guard with Big Ten size already. He will be able to run the one or the two in Underwood’s offense and will start alongside Te’Jon Lucas and Mark Alstork. Smith has great vision and did a lot of everything in high school. The ball ran through him on offense, he crashed the boards, and he averaged over two steals per game on defense. He will, undoubtedly, be the centerpiece for Underwood’s team in the coming years. Smith can shoot, use his size to get to the rim against smaller guards, and score at will.
What to Expect This Year:
The Illini have high hopes for Mark Smith this year and rightfully so. Smith will be an immediate starter for Brad Underwood, and more than likely be the second leading scorer behind Alstork. Mr. Basketball has a legitimate shot at earning himself All-Big Ten Freshman Team honors and potentially Freshman of the Year. In Underwood’s up-tempo offense, it’s not crazy to assume Smith averages upwards of 15 points a game by the end of the season. There is a lot of hype surrounding the freshman, and he has deserved it.