Big Ten

Mark Smith picks Illini, giving Brad Underwood a huge recruiting win

Brad Underwood's tenure at Illinois hasn't gotten off to the smoothest start, but that will all be forgotten after a huge recruiting win Wednesday.

Mark Smith, the Land of Lincoln's Mr. Basketball out of Edwardsville High School, picked the Illini on Wednesday night, spurning a host of other suitors including Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Kentucky and Duke.

Smith is not just committed to Illinois but already signed to a National Letter of Intent, the school announced, making him an official member of the program's incoming freshman class.

For Underwood, landing Smith — ranked as the No. 52 prospect in the Class of 2017 — will not just cushion the blow of a pair of losses from earlier this spring, with Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett asking out of their National Letters of Intent. It will provide a spark of excitement across the fan base.

It's the kind of huge recruiting win that Underwood's predecessor John Groce could rarely claim. Only Tilmon and the rest of this year's recruiting class marked big-time success on the trail for Groce, and he was fired before he was able to coach any of those players.

Smith had a tremendous senior season, averaging 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals during a 30-win campaign. He scored 30 or more points in eight games and scored in double figures in all but one of his team's 32 contests.

Smith's commitment to Illinois restores much of the prestige to a halved recruiting class that once again claims a trio of four-star recruits, Smith joining Trent Frazier and Da'Monte Williams after the departures of Tilmon, a four-star recruit, and Pickett, a three-star recruit.

Underwood now can claim some serious momentum after a rocky beginning to his Illinois tenure. In addition to the departures of Tilmon and Pickett, the Illini lost out to Kansas on former Morgan Park star Charlie Moore, who transferred after one season at Cal. Illinois is reportedly still in the mix for Kansas transfer Carlton Bragg Jr.

Underwood also adds Smith to what was a roster short on scholarship players, particularly after the decisions of Tilmon and Pickett. Smith, along with Frazier and Williams, join returning players D.J. Williams, Kipper Nichols, Te'Jon Lucas, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Leron Black, Aaron Jordan and Michael Finke for Underwood's first season in Champaign.