The whirlwind continues for Edwardsville senior point guard Mark Smith.
Since the basketball season ended for the Tigers with a 76-64 loss to Chicago Simeon in the Class 4A Illinois State Super-Sectional, Smith’s stock has continued to rise. First he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois, then he earned Mr. Basketball of Illinois. Those awards have taken his recruiting to another level.
“It was just a great honor to win those two awards,” Smith said. “I thank my coaches, my teammates and the people that voted for me and I thank God that He gave me the opportunity to win those awards.”
It’s upped it so much Michigan State and Kentucky have entered into the Smith sweepstakes with the likes of Illinois, Ohio State, Kansas State, Butler and Missouri, among others.
“The timing of it has been so interesting,” Edwardsville assistant boys’ basketball coach Dustin Battas said. Battas has been helping Smith with his recruitment. “It’s kind of tied in to him winning these awards. We knew he was having a good season. You start out with a few coaches coming around. He started getting recruited after the season started. A lot of guys in his position have already been on campuses. In the summer before their senior year, they’ve already started building relationships, so he didn’t really have a lot of time during the season because he’s too busy to go visit places. His family has done a lot of homework, and they’ve talked a lot to coaches.”
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo visited Smith last week along with new Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin. Smith said meeting coach Izzo for the first time was a neat experience.
“It was kind of crazy to have coach Izzo in my living room since I’ve watched him on TV so much,” Smith said. “He is a legend.”
Coaching changes have slowed the process a little for Smith. He had built relationships with John Groce at Illinois and Tom Crean at Indiana, and both were fired recently. He also had spoken with Martin while at California before coming to Missouri.
“It has definitely affected my decisions,” Smith said. “I’m back trying to build relationships with coaches. Coach Martin and I already had a relationship because he offered me a scholarship to go to Cal. Coach Groce, when he left that was big because now I have to build a relationship with coach (Brad) Underwood. I have to get a feel if I can trust him. He’s a good guy and we’re building a relationship now. I like coach Underwood a lot.”
“It’s probably delayed things a little bit and it’s opened up more schools coming in that may not have if coach Groce was still at Illinois or coach Crean was still at Indiana,” Battas said. “I was actually with him when coach Groce got let go and he was visibly upset.”
Smith’s complete focus on basketball this season is what he thinks has pushed him to new heights. Originally verbally committed to play baseball at Mizzou, he decommitted in the fall and then blew up during the prep hoops season, averaging a team-best 21.9 points per game while running the point for the Tigers.
“I feel like I’m just starting to get to another level and I feel like once I get to college and I start lifting every day and work on my basketball every day for the whole summer and fall, I’ll see a big increase in my game,” Smith said. “That’s the plan.”
Until then, he’s got to keep sifting through all of his offers and find the right fit for him.
“(Smith’s mother) Yvonne told me the other day she had 35 missed calls,” Battas said. “If I showed you my cellphone right now, you would think I wasn’t doing much teaching at Edwardsville High School the last couple days. The closer it gets to signing day, the crazier it gets. I’ll have 20 to 30 texts a day and 4 or 5 voicemails.”
Smith has already made visits to Illinois, Northwestern, Kansas State and finally Butler last week. He still has visits planned to go to Ohio State and Michigan State.
April 12 is the spring signing day. He said if he doesn’t have a decision, then it will be shortly after that.
He got some good recruiting advice from a couple of knowledgeable sources on March 30. NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar visited SIUE as part of the second annual Mannie Jackson Center For the Humanities’ banquet at SIUE’s Meridian Ballroom. He was the key speaker.
“I got a chance to talk to (Abdul-Jabbar) one on one and I also got to talk to Mannie Jackson a lot, too, about it,” Smith said. “(Abdul-Jabbar) said just go with what feels right and let God lead you in the right direction.”
Battas said he believes Smith is looking for a college program with similarities to EHS, where there was plenty of support and respect among coaches and players.
The 6-foot-4 point guard admitted he just wants to land someplace he’s comfortable and can make an immediate impact.
“I’m just trying to find an environment where I can fit in and a place I can develop at; where I can make an impact immediately as a freshman,” Smith said. “Obviously the head coach matters, that I trust the head coach and he has that trust in me. That’s really what I’m looking for in a school.”
And Battas added the staff at Edwardsville just wants to help him make the best decision for him personally where he can have the most success.
“It’s just keeping him clear-minded and his parents do a great job with that,” Battas said. “We just want him to make a decision that will make him happy at the end of the day.”