After a whirlwind recruitment process, four-star guard Mark Smith announced Wednesday his commitment to play basketball at the University of Illinois.
Michigan State and Kentucky were reportedly closest to earning a commitment from Smith going into his announcement. Others including Ohio State, Indiana, and Missouri were at one point involved.
But the 2017 state of Illinois Mr. Basketball winner decided to stay home and play for the Fighting Illini. Smith is rated as the No. 74 overall prospect in the country by 247Sports after experiencing a meteoric rise during his senior season.
Smith’s athleticism and versatility are ultimately what generated the huge amount of high major interest, and his wide range of skills were on full display at Edwardsville High School this winter.
While leading the Tigers to a Class 4A Sectional Championship, he averaged 22.0 points, 8.4 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per game as the primary ball handler. Smith projects to fill a similar role at the next level, meaning he’ll likely receive minutes at both point guard and shooting guard.
The 6-foot-5 guard is the first in-state Mr. Basketball to suit up at Illinois since Jereme Richmond did so back in 2010. With such enormous potential, it certainly looks as if the Orange and Blue have found the gem of their next recruiting class.
To put it simply, this is monumental news for Illinois. Not only is this the first marquee recruiting win for Brad Underwood, but he managed to do so by beating out Tom Izzo in a head-to-head battle. Smith is arguably the best prospect in the state, and for a program that’s struggled to keep talent inside their borders, his importance can’t be overstated for the Fighting Illini.
Roster-wise, Illinois’ incoming class now features a potent trio of backcourt players. Smith’s scoring ability has already been well-documented, but four-star guard Trent Frazier is an explosive playmaker in his own right. Da’Monte Williams, another four-star guard, is nearing his return to the court after a recent ACL injury; it’s yet to be seen if he’ll suit up next winter, but he’ll be a terrific defender and volume scorer if he can meet his potential.
It may take some time for this influx of talent to gel, but this is still an outstanding foundation for the future of Illinois basketball.
Even better? Plenty of work could still be done on the recruiting front. With three remaining scholarships, Illinois will look to bolster their frontline by adding some post players.
Who knows, perhaps Smith’s announcement will even entice Jeremiah Tilmon to rejoin the program. The East St. Louis big man made it quite clear that he was still considering Illinois after requesting a release from his national letter of intent, and he hasn’t taken any other campus visits since then.
At any rate, it’s time to celebrate — Illinois just landed a great basketball player.
Mark Smith’s 2016-17 Highlights
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