Conference Preview

Posted On: 03/21/17 6:00 AM

The fall before the 2016-2017 high school season in Illinois began we profiled 16 candidates for the Player of the Year Award.  The person that has won the award was not even on the list!  Talk about a dark horse candidate!

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the PrepHoopsIllinois Player of the Year Award is Edwardsville senior point guard Mark Smith.  What a ride it has been for Smith over the last nine months.  We have watched Smith play since the beginning of his career at Edwardsville.  He was part of the Big 3 of 2017 with sharp shooter Oliver Stephen and five star football phenom AJ Epenesa.  Here is a trip down memory lane from the beginning to the present.

Let’s take a look back at one of the first scouting reports we wrote on Smith during his sophomore year when his team advanced in the 2015 Salem Invitational Tournament with a win over Mt. Vernon.

I like how this sophomore combo guard plays.  At 6’3” he has a physical body where he can take smaller or weaker defenders in the post and bury them.  He plays with a lot of confidence and is always under control.  Smith is a solid mid-range shooter that gets elevation off the floor.  The guard makes crisp passes and is a good rebounder.  He had 17 points on the night.  D1 prospect.

At that time we considered Smith a D1 prospect and one that low-major programs should begin to monitor.  He didn’t get the exposure playing at the highest level of grassroots basketball during the summer to get the recognition from college coaches that we felt he deserved.  There was another factor in this scenario.  Smith was also an outstanding baseball pitcher.  He was being recruited by high level college programs to play on the diamond and there were even rumors he could get drafted to the majors out of high school.  Smith told us in January of 2016 that he had decided to commit to Mizzou to play baseball.  Makes sense as Missouri is known for producing high level college pitchers.  We continued to rank Smith as a low-major hoops prospect during this time even though like his teammate Epenesa we thought that door was closed opting for another sport.

Smith closed out his junior high school basketball season with another quality campaign as he was without question one of the best prospects in southern Illinois and the St. Louis metro east.  Everything changed during the second live period of July.  Smith had decided he was going to play some travel team hoops with Jets/Ramey United.  During the second live period they were at the NY2LA Summer Jam which is one of the more prestigious events in the Midwest during July.  Smith opened eyes with his play.  A buzz started to follow.  Who is this kid?  How did we miss him?  Oh he is committed for baseball?  Early in the week we spoke with Mark and he was still verbally committed to Mizzou, but was willing to listen to basketball programs.  Less than five days later Smith texted me on that Sunday to let me know he had decommitted from his baseball commitment and was going to focus on basketball.

By the end of the summer he had clearly put himself in the conversation with a lot of the other quality floor generals in the state’s 2017 class.  He rose to the top 20 overall and was a mid-major/low-major prospect in our eyes as well as the eyes of many college coaches.  Smith landed a ton of D1 offers.  He would eventually take three official visits to Northern Illinois, Wright State, and SIUE.  In the week leading up to and during the early signing period Smith was leaning toward signing with one of those three schools.  When the first signing period came to a close he had not inked a national letter of intent.

Then his senior season began.  You could say this is when the legend of the “new” Mark Smith was born.  Edwardsville was going to be one of the top teams in the metro east coming into the season.  They came out with a statement at the Highland Thanksgiving Tournament.  Against the favorite for state player of the year and potential 4A state title contenders Belleville Althoff and Jordan Goodwin it was Smith who played like the superstar.  He had 37 points in the win.  He would continue from there.  Smith posted monster game after monster game.  The senior was creating a stir among college coaches.  It started with mid-major programs getting heavily involved and then late in December several high-major programs began to come to see what all the talk was about.  We didn’t get the chance to check the “new” Mark Smith for the first time this season until the championship game of the Collinsville Holiday Tournament.  Once again it was against Althoff.  Again he was absolutely sensational!  Here is what we wrote about Smith that night.

I have seen Edwardsville 2017 point guard Mark Smith play a ton in his four years of high school and on the grassroots circuit.  Friday night in my first time evaluating him as a senior he has completely taken it to another level!  The 6’4” point guard has a strong body that projects well to the college level.  He shot the ball incredibly well from deep drilling multiple pull up threes from well beyond the three point arc.  Also got to the basket at will.  In the past it was more overpowering his opponent.  He showed against Belleville Althoff that his quickness off the bounce has improved has he had more shiftiness than I had thought before.  Finishes at the rim great with body control.  Also completely posterized a couple dunks.  Smith is a high IQ guard that understands the game.  Made great reads passing it especially in the drive and kick.  Plus rebounder for his position.  The last box to check off is defensive lateral quickness to defend opposing point guards at the high major level.  Smith won the MVP of the Collinsville Tournament with a 35 point and 5 assist performance in the championship game over Althoff.

That night everything changed.  He was a bonafide high-major prospect.  Smith told us that night he felt the biggest difference for him is that this was the first time in his career he has been able to focus solely on basketball in the months leading up to the season.  That night he picked up multiple high major offers.  It was on!  Schools from coast to coast were calling, coming to games, practices, and trying to get him on campus.  Blue blood college programs were showing interest.  He had become the hottest commodity in the country.  His play on the court didn’t let up.  We once again saw Smith light it up during same tournament where we first saw him at in the Salem Invitational.  Smith and Edwardsville rolled through the first two rounds, but in the championship Centralia gave them a game.  That was until Smith completely took over going straight to the hoop over and over and over.  On one and-1 that he converted he yelled at me under the hoop, “Scott, I’m the #1 Player in the State!”  He left no doubt as to who the MVP was once again.

Throughout his entire senior season he never left any doubt he was the best player on the floor.  Smith took his game to another stratosphere this season.  Congratulations again to Edwardsville senior point guard Mark Smith on winning the 2017 PrepHoopsIllinois Player of the Year!

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