The Bragging Rights rivalry between Missouri and Illinois probably didn’t need much of an excuse to ramp up its intensity, but it got one anyway on Saturday night.
As announced on his Twitter page, former Illinois point guard Mark Smith committed to Missouri while on his official visit to Columbia:
It’s official!! pic.twitter.com/jo2PxaRaRl
— MARK SMITH (@Mark_Smith_13) April 15, 2018
As a freshman with the Illini last season, Smith got off to a nice start in Champaign, only to watch his productivity and playing time slip as the season went along. Smith left Illinois after concern over his role in coach Brad Underwood’s offense, telling The Telegraph, “I just don’t fit the system.”
A top-100 player from Edwardsville, Ill., in the Class of 2017, Smith was heavily pursued by Missouri after a stellar senior season in which his stock as a prospect soared — he was named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball. Prior to his onslaught of basketball offers and eventual commitment to the Illini, Smith was committed to Missouri for baseball.
Smith will have to sit out the 2018-19 season, but the Missouri coaching staff is hoping that when he returns to the court as a redshirt sophomore that he can find the explosiveness and production he showed as a senior in high school, but lacked in his first season in college.
The upside for Missouri is clear. If Smith is able to get back to the player everyone thought he was coming out of high school, he’ll slot in nicely as a power combo guard, capable of handling the ball but strong enough to not get bullied by some of the bigger perimeter players in the SEC.
And if he’s not? His presence on the roster means that coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff are continuing to make a difference in the St. Louis area, which is stocked with talent in the 2019 class and beyond.
Even if Smith remains ineffective on the court, he could help the Tigers land big-time talent, including Belleville, Ill., power forward E.J. Liddell, Missouri’s top target in 2019.
The immediate question that Smith’s commitment raises: What does this mean for the recruitment of top-50 point guard Courtney Ramey? Missouri has been all over Ramey in recent months, and with Missouri’s hole at point guard, there seems to be a natural fit for Ramey to come in and play big minutes right away for his home-state team.
Ramey and his family have gone radio silent in recent weeks, however, meaning that any discussion of where his recruitment is headed is nothing more than speculation. Some people think Smith and Ramey would not want to play together, while others don’t think that would affect Ramey’s decision.
Further patience will be required on that front for Missouri fans. But while you wait, at least you can dream about how Smith will fit on the court, what his commitment means for St. Louis recruiting, etc.
Not a bad consolation prize.