University of Missouri

Connection to Mizzou assistant helped land Evansville transfer Dru Smith

Missouri transfer Dru Smith played for Marty Simmons (right) at Evansville, as did MU assistant coach Chris Hollender.
Missouri transfer Dru Smith played for Marty Simmons (right) at Evansville, as did MU assistant coach Chris Hollender. The Associated Press

A former standout from Dru Smith’s old school helped lead him to his new one.

Missouri landed one of the most sought-after transfers on the market Friday in Evansville guard Dru Smith, which already has fans looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, when the 6-foot-4 guard becomes eligible.

Smith chose the Tigers over Xavier and Virginia Tech after making an official visit to Columbia from Tuesday to Thursday.

“It was just a good time,” Smith said. “They seem very family-oriented. All the guys were close. The coaching staff was really nice to be around.”

Smith’s primary recruiter was Missouri assistant coach Chris Hollender, who had a standout career at Evansville and played for the same coach there in Marty Simmons. Simmons was an assistant coach at Evansville when Hollender was in college, and later hired him away from Army to serve on his staff for three years.

Simmons was fired at the end of Evansville’s season, and Smith said that Hollender understood the situation he was in as well as anybody.

“He understands the program I was coming from and what that program stands for,” Smith said. ”We both had the same coach when we were playing, so we were both really close with him. It was nice to have him understand where I was coming from.”

Smith said Simmons stayed out of his ear during the recruiting process but vouched for Missouri’s entire program when they began to separate themselves in the process.

“Coach Simmons is a big fan of the whole staff over there,” he said. “He really likes coach (Cuonzo) Martin as well.”

On his visit, Smith was hosted by Missouri junior point guard Jordan Geist, who had previously crossed paths with him in high school.

During Geist’s senior year of high school, he and Caleb Swanigan, who currently plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, led Homestead in Fort Wayne, Ind., to the class 4A state title over Reitz, whose star player was Smith, then a junior.

At Evansville, Smith said he started as a point guard but became more of a combo guard his sophomore year and played each guard spot based on matchup and personnel. It seemed to work, as he averaged 13.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 48.2 percent from three to lead the Missouri Valley Conference. He also led the conference with two steals per game.

It appears the Tigers want to keep that idea going.

Smith said Missouri wants him to be able to play both guard positions as Martin tries to take a page out of national champion Villanova’s book and become more positionless, which means having players on the floor that can play and guard multiple spots and space the floor.

He said while he sits out a year, he’ll have to work on his all-around game since he’s moving up in terms of talent and competition.

Martin already has a great track record with transfers and showed it during his first season at Missouri as he helped turn Kassius Robertson from a three-point specialist at Canisius to an all-Southeastern Conference first-team selection.

On his visit, Smith said he watched film from the previous season with the coaching staff and came away impressed with how Robertson’s game evolved in the short time he was in Columbia.

With the upcoming season looking more like a transition year for Missouri, fans are already wondering what the team will look like during Smith’s first year of eligibility in 2019.

Missouri’s incoming freshmen class of Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett and Xavier Pinson would be sophomores, and junior-college transfer K.J. Santos would be a redshirt junior alongside Smith and Illinois transfer Mark Smith. Jeremiah Tilmon could also return for his junior season, depending upon his status with the NBA Draft.

Should Missouri land some of the top-ranked local recruits in its 2019 class — such as E.J. Liddell, Mario McKinney and Terrence Hargrove — it would make for Martin’s deepest and most talented team in Columbia.

Smith knows this, and he said while the roster will inevitably change over the next two years, the team’s ceiling will be high once he can step on the floor.

“It will be exciting to see where everyone ends up and how we develop over the next year,” he said. “I think the expectations will be high with everyone coming in. We’ll have to do our best to live up to it.”