Edwardsville senior guard Mark Smith on Tuesday was named Mr. Basketball of Illinois.
Smith, who led the Tigers (30-2) to the Class 4A Normal Super-Sectional, is the first Mr. Basketball from the metro-east since East St. Louis’ Darius Miles won the award in 2000. Smith was born in 1999.
“I’m speechless,” said Smith, who averaged 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals in addition to making 44 3-pointers. “I want to thank all the coaches that voted for me, my parents (Anthony and Yvonne), my teammates, all the coaches in the Southwestern Conference and the media people. And even the (opposing) players, because they pushed me to be better.
“This is something I’ve dreamed of – winning Mr. Basketball. So many great players have won this award, so for me to win Mr. Basketball is very exciting, and I’m just glad to see all the hard work pay off that I put in.”
Smith had eight games with at least 30 points, reaching double figures in 31 of the Tigers’ 32 games. He scored a career-high 45 points in Edwardsville’s 81-59 victory over Danville in the championship game of the Ottawa Sectional. Smith shot 82 percent from the free-throw line (164-for-200).
Smith had committed to play baseball at Missouri, which recruited him as a pitcher. But Smith decommitted, and his basketball career took off early in his senior season.
“I didn’t have to split time between baseball and basketball,” Smith said. “I just focused on basketball. My dad, coach (Mike) Waldo, coach (Allen) Duncan, coach (Dustin) Battas, coach (Brian) Young and coach (Kyle) Stewart have all helped me become a really good basketball player. I thank them for putting all the hours in. I’m blessed.”
Smith also expressed appreciation to the Jets’ AAU program for helping him develop into the player he has become.
The Mr. Basketball award was presented by the Chicago Tribune in conjunction with the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. Rock Island’s Brea Beal was named Ms. Basketball.
The players will be honored at the annual IBCA Banquet on May 6 at Redbird Arena in Normal. It’s the first time since 1999 that both winners are from outside the Chicago area. In 1999, Lincoln’s Brian Cook and Nokomis’ Molly McDowell won the awards. Cook played at Illinois.
Mr. and Ms. Basketball are voted upon by coaches and media members in Illinois. All voters named their top three choices, with five points awarded for a first-place vote, three for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.
Smith finished with 251 points, outscoring Evanston senior Nojel Eastern (175 points) and Althoff senior Jordan Goodwin (136). Goodwin, who will play at Saint Louis University, had his season cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery.
East St. Louis’ Jeremiah Tilmon was fourth with 105 points and Belleville East’s Javon Pickett was eighth with 46 points. Both have signed with Illinois.
The 6-foot-4 Smith received 41 first-place votes to 22 first-place votes for Eastern. Smith was named on 61 of the 139 ballots received by the Monday deadline.
“Mark is a good athlete and he has worked really hard,” Waldo said. “I think the best thing about him is he appreciates the opportunity to get to play and appreciates each day to get to practice and work. If you’re a good athlete like him, really smart, appreciates the opportunity, practices well and gives it his best every day, that’s how you do well.
“Mark really did that. He got rewarded. This is a great honor for him (Tuesday).”
Smith still is unsigned, although he is considering Illinois, Missouri, Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, Kansas State and Butler.
“Both my parents were both college athletes and they really helped me a lot throughout this process,” Smith said. “A lot of schools have been patient with me. It’s a great opportunity. I’m really excited that all these schools are after me.”
Waldo said Smith reaped what he sowed.
“Mark made himself a skilled player. He made himself a good athlete just from his work in the weight room and his work practicing,” Waldo said. “He was such a good teammate and such a good person that the guys on the team were very, very willing to always help him be in good positions to make a difference in the game. Our guys did a great job of getting him the ball, and they were willing to give him the ball all the time.
“That’s a credit to Mark in what a good teammate he was and how much the guys on the team respected him and admired him. But Mark never played to score; he always just played to win. I know our guys really liked playing with him because when you play with Mark, if you’re open, you get (the ball).”
Smith on Monday also won the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year award. He figures to earn strong consideration for the Belleville News-Democrat’s Class 3A-4A Player of the Year, an award won the past two years by Goodwin.
“Mark’s thankful for these awards and he feels good about them,” Waldo said. “But I really do think Mark feels the best about playing with his teammates and the fact that they reached such a high level of play and that the team had success. I really think that means more to Mark than the awards.”