University of Missouri

Missouri lands Illinois transfer Mark Smith

Mark Smith (right), who played against Missouri last season at Illinois,  has committed to play for the Tigers.
Mark Smith (right), who played against Missouri last season at Illinois, has committed to play for the Tigers. The Associated Press

Mark Smith pulled off a rare feat in the recruiting world on Saturday night, committing to play basketball at Missouri, the school he once pledged to play baseball at many years ago.

The Illinois transfer was in town on an official visit and decided to end the process before returning home to Edwardsville, Ill. Smith will have to sit out the 2018-19 season but will have three years of eligibility remaining.

"Mizzou got involved and sold him on that family atmosphere," said Andre McMurray, the director of Jets-Ramey United, Smith's AAU team. "(His parents) loved it. Not just from a basketball standpoint, but who is he going to be as a man. Coach (Cuonzo) Martin really left an impression on the mom and the dad and Mark as well."

Smith averaged 5.8 points per game and 1.4 rebounds with Illinois this past season, playing in 31 games while starting 19. The 6-foot-4 point guard can play both guard spots but will likely play point guard for Missouri. He scored 11 points against Missouri in Illinois' Dec. 23 win over the Tigers in the annual Braggin' Rights game.

“We are excited to have Mark Smith join the Mizzou Basketball Family,” Martin said in a release announcing the signing on Monday. “Mark is a high character individual and a great fit for our program. We can’t thank his parents, Yvonne and Anthony, enough for trusting us with their son. He is a dynamic, talented scorer and distributor, and we can’t wait to get him to campus.”

Smith originally committed to Missouri as a pitching prospect who had a fastball that topped out around 91 miles per hour. But in the summer of 2016, after straining the flexor pronator in his pitching arm, he decided to focus on basketball.

Originally considered a low-major recruit, Smith took official visits to Wright State, Southern Illinois Edwardsville (where his parents played) and Northern Illinois.

After a breakout senior season at Edwardsville High School, just outside of St. Louis, where he averaged 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.4 assists, Smith blew up and became the hottest commodity on the market.

He was selected as Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois and had the likes of Duke, Indiana, Michigan State and Kentucky all recruiting him. A consensus four-star recruit and top-60 player nationally, he eventually chose Illinois and the recently hired Brad Underwood, calling it his dream school.

Smith is considered a complete guard who can play the point or on the wing and can defend four positions. McMurray said his former player will have to develop his inside game if he wants to be an impact player in the Southeastern Conference, but he has all the intangibles.

“He always needs to work on a midrange game,” McMurray said. "I think he’s got the jump shot and body to go and bump in the SEC."

Smith announced he was transferring shortly after the Fightin' Illini's season ended and chose Missouri over Georgia, Butler and Boston College among a long list of suitors. Georgia coach Tom Crean recruited Smith when he was at Indiana.

“Cuonzo has a lot of faith in me, he’s expecting big things from me in the future and I just feel like we have a really good relationship,” Smith said in the release. “I’m excited to get to Columbia and work with him and the staff.”

He joins Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett, K.J. Santos and Xavier Pinson in Missouri's 2018 recruiting class. Watson and Pickett also played AAU basketball for Jets-Ramey United.

Missouri's decision to take Smith likely means that the Tigers are out with four-star St. Louis point guard Courtney Ramey. A source close to the situation told The Star that Ramey, who also played for Jets-Ramey United, will not play at the same program as Smith. A source close to Missouri told The Star that the Tigers will still take Ramey, should he want to commit.

With Smith's commitment, the Tigers still have one scholarship available and could add another if Jontay Porter decides to stay in the NBA Draft. Missouri could still add a graduate transfer to its class and is expected to host Evansville transfer Dru Smith for an official visit on April 27.

Smith's commitment gives Missouri four scholarship players on its roster next season from the St. Louis area, alongside Watson, Pickett and current Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon. Walk-on Ronnie Suggs hails from Washington, another St. Louis suburb.

A city the program has historically struggled to recruit, McMurray said Missouri's local recruiting has officially captivated the area.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything close to this.”