Edwardsville High senior guard Mark Smith is becoming a popular attraction on the Midwestern Division I college basketball recruiting circuit.
The 6-foot-4 Smith has been among the St. Louis area scoring leaders all season, currently averaging 22.4 points. The versatile playmaker also averages 7.9 rebounds and 8.5 assists while hitting 60.6 percent of his shots.
Smith’s current Division I scholarship offers include Illinois, Kansas State, Northwestern, Missouri and DePaul. Illini head coach John Groce and Northwestern coach Chris Collins were both at Edwardsville practices last week and Indiana staff is coming to watch Smith play Tuesday at Alton.
“I’m probably going to take some visits here soon, but my team comes first,” said Smith, who doesn’t want to miss any practices or games but hopes to take some visits soon to his top four schools of Illinois, Kansas State, Northwestern and DePaul. “That’s the top four that’s been talking to me a lot. There’s some other schools just starting to hop in, but I still talk to those schools a lot.”
Another sign how high Smith’s stock has risen was seeing three-time NBA all-star and former NBA player and head coach Doug Collins, father of Northwestern coach Chris Collins, coming to watch Smith against Mount Vernon at the Salem Invitational.
Smith led Edwardsville to its fifth championship in six years at the tournament, scoring 27 points to lock up tourney Most Valuable Player honors in a 50-46 victory over the Centralia Orphans. Smith also earned that honor in December at the Collinsville/Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.
Collins, who starred at Benton High School under Rich Herrin and was the NBA’s first overall pick in 1973, now works as an NBA analyst for ESPN.
“It’s exciting to have those coaches come in and big-time schools coming in,” Smith said. “(Doug Collins) coached Michael Jordan, so that was cool.”
Originally committed to Missouri for baseball as a right-handed pitcher, Smith was spending time focusing on both sports as a junior. He eventually opened up his recruiting for basketball again and the results have been solid.
I’m probably going to take some visits here soon, but my team comes first.
Mark Smith, Edwardsville senior
“I don’t think there’s anything different, I come out and try to play the same every time,” he said. “I try to get to the basket, find the open man, be a playmaker for my team and get us into the offense. (Last summer) I focused on basketball so I could get more consistent with my jump shot, getting quicker and getting in better basketball shape.
“I’m just blessed to have the opportunities that I’m getting now. I always loved basketball and came from a basketball family, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to drop baseball and try to pursue basketball after I sprained my forearm.”
Smith’s father is Metro-East Lutheran High basketball coach and former Southern Illinois University Edwardsville basketball player Anthony Smith. His mother is former Mater Dei High and SIUE basketball standout Yvonne Boeckmann Smith and his uncle is former Mater Dei and Rockhurst University standout Phil Boeckmann.
Yvonne Smith and Phil Boeckmann are both in the Mater Dei Hall of Fame.
Smith scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half of Saturday’s tournament championship game and was 12 for 18 from the floor overall. Playing all three tournament games without senior A.J. Epenesa, the Tigers (16-1) survived a strong second-half comeback by Centralia.
Smith was Edwardsville’s fifth Salem tourney MVP in six years, following Epenesa, Shawn Roundtree, Garret Covington and Tre’ Harris.
Epenesa, an All-American defensive end and Iowa Hawkeyes recruit, was in Hawaii and earned defensive MVP honors at the Polynesian Bowl.
Smith said Nathan Kolesa and Jackson Best all made good contributions throughout the week along with the normal starters.
“We played really good as a team and it was a good win for us not having A.J.,” Smith said. “He’s a big part of our team; he finishes in the post and gets a lot of rebounds, so to play well down there was a big win for us.”
Edwardsville, ranked third in the Class 4A state poll, will take a 12-game winning streak into its Southwestern Conference game Tuesday at Alton.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything,” Smith said. “We’ve got two good post players, we’ve got two good shooters and we’ve been playing together since we were young. And we’re real tall, we’ve got a good connection all around. We know what everyone does well and Coach (Mike) Waldo always has good game plans for us, great offensive plays to run. We execute and we finish.”