Ex-Illini Smith dies

Ex-Illini Smith dies

On Illinois' list of all-time leading scorers, Mark Smith is a notch below Eddie Johnson. But Johnson remembers always looking up to Smith.

"Mark was a better player than I was, and I remember thinking that all the way back to our days at Illinois," Johnson said Friday night. "He did all the things to make his teammates look good, and he still looked good doing it. I always admired the guy as a player."

Johnson wasn't alone in that admiration. Nor in the dismay he felt upon learning that Smith, who starred at the UI with Johnson in the late 1970s, died Wednesday night in Peoria at the age of 41.

Smith suffered a series of health problems that his brother, Duane, said were related to substance abuse. In recent years, he'd had problems with his brain, heart, kidneys, pancreas and stomach.

Between 1977 and '81, Smith and Johnson helped lead an Illini resurgence. In their four-year career, the two led Illinois to 75 wins and the 1981 NCAA tournament, the program's first in 18 years.

On the court, Smith will be remembered as one of the most complete players of his era in the Big Ten. In a game against Minnesota on Feb. 1, 1979, he recorded the first triple-double in UI history, totaling 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

"He was an amazing talent, but he was also so unselfish," Johnson said. "Even when the two of us were chasing each other to be the No. 1 scorer (in school history), it was always something I wanted more than he did. He was more than willing to let me have it because he just wasn't a guy who cared about his stats."

In four years, Smith totaled 1,653 points and still ranks fourth on the UI's all-time scoring list. He ranks eighth in school history in rebounds and 10th all time in assists.

Smith, who starred at Richwoods High School in Peoria, was a third-round draft choice of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks in 1981. He never played in the NBA, but he played more than 10 years of professional basketball in Belgium, Italy, Puerto Rico and Spain.

"The guy should have been a 12- to 15-year player in the NBA," Johnson said. "He would have been, if he had stayed away from some of the things he got into in his life, and I told him that a long time ago. It's sad that he wasn't able to do that because he was a wonderful guy. That's not the sort of thing you say about him because he's gone, either. It's how I've always felt. Inside, he was just a great person."

SMITH'S CAREER

Selected career statistics for former Illinois men's basketball player Mark Smith, who died Wednesday night in Peoria:

Scoring

Player, Points, Years

1. Deon Thomas, 2,129, 1991-94

2. Kiwane Garris, 1,948, 1994-97

3. Eddie Johnson, 1,692, 1978-81

4. Mark Smith, 1,653, 1978-81

5. Andy Kaufmann, 1,533, 1989-93

Other Statistics

Category, No., Rank

Field goals, 608, 3rd

Free throws, 437, 3rd

Free throws att., 559, 3rd

Steals, 161, t-5th

FG %, .525, 7th

Minutes, 3,517, 7th

Rebounds, 723, 8th

Note: Also in the top 11 for assists (350) and blocked shots (59).

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