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What Mark Smith’s departure means for Illinois

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The highly touted guard is leaving Illinois after one season.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The beginning of the offseason for the Fighting Illini is here early and there already is commotion coming out of Champaign.

The four-star guard out of Edwardsville, Illinois, comitted to new head coach Brad Underwood in April, and many pundits and fans expected great things out of the talented freshman. The first Illinois Mr. Basketball to commit to the Illini since 2010, fans were hoping to see him come out and light up the scoreboard game in and game out.

Through his first five games in Champaign, Smith was averaging just under 14 points in a starting role for the Illini. It was not just his scoring that had fans interested — Smith seemed adept at leading on the court early in the year. While not the most vocal, he seemed to have a confidence and swagger that teams want from their court general.

However, as the talent of the opponents trended up and away from Southern and Longwood, Smith seemed to shy away from the spotlight. In Illinois’ three-game stretch against Wake Forest, Northwestern and Maryland, Smith averaged 3.3 points per game while being on the court for an average of 16 minutes per contest. Smith never seemed to regain that confidence that made him such an intriguing product early in the season after that.

The emergence of Trent Frazier likely played a factor in the decision of Mark Smith and his family for him to transfer after one season. Frazier appears to be the point guard of the future and does not look to be giving up that mantle any time soon.

On the season, Smith was averaging 5.8 points per game on over 33 percent shooting. With the addition of Ayo Dosunmu for next season, Smith likely saw the writing on the wall regarding playing time and the limited minutes he would see in Champaign in 2018 and beyond. To that end, the addition of Dosunmu alleviates the loss of Smith, as Ayo looks poised to come in and contribute immediately.

The biggest loss here may be a body, as rumors swirling around the Illini point to the possibility of several athletes leaving the program at season’s end.

From all of us here at The Champaign Room, we wish Mark Smith and his family best wishes in their future endeavors.