Freshman guard Mark Smith will transfer from the Illinois basketball program after one season, according to a report from Joe Henrickson of City/Suburban Hoops Report.
Former Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith met with athletic administration at Illinois today with his intent to transfer. Should have his release from Illini in a day or two.
— Joe Henricksen (@joehoopsreport) March 5, 2018
Reports were confirmed Monday afternoon in a press release from the Illini athletic department.
“We thank Mark for the effort and contributions he made to our team this year,” coach Brad Underwood said in the press release. “We wish him nothing but the best as he continues to pursue his dreams.”
Smith, an Edwardsville, Illinois native and the 2017 Illinois Mr. Basketball winner, averaged 5.8 points in 19.1 minutes per game this season for the Illini, who went 14-18 on the season.
The former four-star recruit, who had the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State after his services, started 19 games for Illinois. His minutes decreased once Big Ten play got into full swing. He had to compete with a number of players for time on the court, including All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection Trent Frazier, fellow freshman Da’Monte Williams, sophomore Te’Jon Lucas and Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork.
He shot 33.7 percent from the field and 23.2 percent from 3-point range on the season while averaging 1.4 rebounds and assists per game. Against DePaul on Nov. 11, Smith led the Illini in scoring with 21 points, 12 of which came at the free-throw line.
Smith met with Underwood and members of the athletic department ahead of the decision, and he is expected to be released from his scholarship within the next few days. He will have three remaining years of NCAA eligibility, although his transfer destination is unknown at this time.
As an Illini fan, this is sad to hear, but honestly it is the best for the kid. Mark Smith was recruited by John Groce before the coach was fired last year. As a basketball player/coach myself, it is incredibly hard to play in a system that doesn’t fit your style. I had 4 different coaches in 4 years in high school and getting to know a new system is incredibly hard to do. Now many will say that Smith needed to man up, and play hard for Underwood, but sometimes, especially in College Basketball, it’s the coach that wants to have players in his system rather than the players choosing which system they want to play in.
But system play aside, Mark Smith added no value to the Illini, especially in the Big 10 season. In Illinois’ weak non conference schedule, Mark Smith averaged 9 points a game and only 3.1 points a game in the B1G. After scoring in double digits in 4 out of the first 5 games, Smith didn’t score more than 5 points in the next 5. Smith was making 36.5% of his shots (26.1% beyond the arc) but only shot 28.6% and 18.5% beyond the arm in the Big 10. These are not numbers you should be seeing in an Illinois Mr. Basketball. Trent Frazier also clearly took up a lot Smith’s minutes with the PG’s emergence and leadership in late season play.
It’s never nice to see a player leave your program, but clearly, Smith wasn’t a good match for the direction Illinois is headed. This only opens up another spot for Underwood’s recruiting class, which is a good thing for a program that is rebuilding.