Mark Smith Realizes There's No Place Like Home

By Roy & Harv Schmidt

April 26, 2017

6:00 P.M. C.S.T. 

In the end, the recruitment of Mark Smith ended up being somewhat comparable to "The Wizard Of Oz."  The only difference was that Smith did not have to click his heels three times to truly realize that there is no place like home. Instead, it was a feeling that he had always held in his heart from the very beginning. 

It is for that reason above all others that the 6'5 2017 guard from Edwardsville High School in Edwardsville, IL closed out his recruitment today by committing to the University Of Illinois and head coach Brad Underwood after taking a final unofficial visit to the Champaign campus this past Thursday.  Smith chose the Illini over offers from Michigan State and Ohio State in addition to receiving offers and fielding inquiries from several other big time programs, including Kentucky and Duke.

There is no question that Smith's recruitment took several twists and turns.  Such is the case when you go from being projected as a mid-major recruit to a can't miss high major prospect, which is what Smith managed to do within the course of about nine months--from last Spring up to the start of 2017 (  It was therefore no wonder that once the New Year arrived, the blue bloods were knocking on Smith's door at every opportunity.

The first really significant development occurred when it was learned that Michigan State had jumped into Smith's recruitment. Almost immediately after that, the Spartans managed to schedule an in-home visit with Smith and his parents.  Numerous reports indicated that Tom Izzo had "hit it off" with the entire Smith family to the point where he had completely won them over on that visit.  That belief was substantiated even further when Smith scheduled an official visit to the East Lansing campus within just a few days after the in-home.

With that being said, the entire Spartan faithful was hoping that Izzo and company would succeed in landing a commitment from Smith by the time his official visit concluded.  And the way things were proceeding, there was reason to believe that it was a realistic possibility.  However, Smith did not pull the trigger and chose to wait.  And by doing that, the Illini coaching staff clearly seized the opportunity.  They were also successful in holding off a final official visit to Ohio State this past weekend as well as an in-home visit with Duke last week that in reality didn't amount to all that much. 

The bottom line is that Smith has always held a special place in his heart for the Illini.  That is because he grew up not far from Champaign and has always been an Illini fan.  And there is no question that Underwood and his staff did their homework when it came to immediately recognizing that fact.  Underwood reached out to Smith as soon as he was hired at Illinois and assistant coaches Jamall Walker and Orlando Antigua followed up shortly after that.  Between all of them, they took full advantage of being able to get Smith on campus one last time and once they did it was for all practical purposes a done deal.

Allow us to repeat once again in a loud and resonant voice--Illinois Prep Bulls-eye was the first to recognize Smith's true abilities and tout him as a legit D1 prospect as early as last Spring.  But little did we know that his stock would catapult as rapidly as it did. It included being named the tournament MVP at the Collinsville Holiday Tournament after turning in two games of 30 points or more and leading his team to a #1 state ranking in Class 4A and the supersectional at Illinois State University.

Smith handles the ball extremely well and can attack the basket with a vengeance.  In addition, he is an effective mid-range scorer and above all else simply has a great nose for the ball.  To top everything off, Smith has shown that that he can also spot up and convert shots from 3-point land.  What it all translates to is a versatile playmaker with few weaknesses.

Unlike most of the other high major programs that pursued Smith, Illinois recruited him primarily as a point guard.  However, that doesn't mean that Smith can't or won't see time at other positions as well.  And with half of the Illini's 2017 recruiting class from the fall having been depleted after Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett chose to decommit, another point that Underwood and the staff had no trouble selling Smith on was the notion of him being a cornerstone for a new era of men's basketball at Illinois. 

Smith now becomes the third member of the Illini's 2017 recruiting class, joining 6'2 point guard Trent Frazier of Wellington High School in Florida and 6'4 combo Da'Monte Williams of Manual High School in Peoria, IL.  There is no question that with him now being in the fold, the Illini Nation is likely to forever perceive him as the equivalent of a folk hero in Champaign.

Underwood and the Illini coaching staff also remain hard at work in their pursuit of quality recruits in both 2017 and 2018 and have extended numerous scholarship offers in both of those classes since the start of the Spring evaluation period, including 6'7 2017 wing forward Francesco Badocchi from Italy; 6'9 2017 power forward Obadiah Toppin from Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore; 6'5 2018  2-guard Talen Horton-Tucker from Simeon Career Academy in Chicago and 6'9 2018 power forward Silvio De Sousa from IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL just to name a few.


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