Brad Underwood has been on the job at Illinois for a little more than a month.
But the new Illini coach landed his first major recruit on Wednesday when Edwardsville guard Mark Smith signed with Illinois, becoming the third player in the Class of 2017, joining Florida point guard Trent Frazier and Peoria Manual product Da'Monte Williams.
"We are thrilled to welcome Mark Smith to the University of Illinois family," Underwood said in a statement. "This is a big day both for us and for Mark, as he has now achieved the goal of being able to represent his home state by wearing the Fighting Illini jersey. Mark is obviously a talented player, but he will impact our program in many different areas. He is a phenomenal young man of high integrity, he comes from an outstanding family led by parents Anthony and Yvonne, he is committed to performing in the classroom, and he is a great leader.
"Mark has benefited from playing at a top high school in Edwardsville for Coach Mike Waldo and an elite AAU program in Ramey-Jets United for Coach Andre McMurray," Underwood added. "Those two head coaches and the many assistants involved in those programs have fostered his improvement to a level where he earned Mr. Basketball status, a tremendous honor with so many great players in our state."
Mark Smith is coming to Illinois.
— Michael Kiser (@MichaelWDWS) April 26, 2017
"It has everything I was looking for," Smith said. "I want to make my state proud. We're going to do big things there. I always knew where I was going, but it's a great relief. The first time I went to Illinois, I knew this was the spot for me."
His announcement took place at Lucco-Jackson Gymnasium at Edwardsville High School.
Before he announced, Smith, who signed his letter of intent with Illinois and sent it to the UI before he made his decision public, offered a few words.
"I just want to thank everybody for being here tonight," Smith said. "First and foremost, I want to thank God for blessing me with the ability to play basketball. I have so many important people to recognize. They have put me in this position. I want to thank my parents for being so supportive. I want to thank all my high school coaches. This has been a crazy time for my family, but the recruiting process is exciting."
Before Smith announced his decision, Edwardsville boys' basketball coach Mike Waldo and Edwardsville athletic director Brad Bevis spoke for a few minutes.
"Congratulations to Mark and his family," Waldo said. "The best thing about Mark is he's a great, great teammate. That's shown by all his teammates that are here that are genuinely happy for him."
— IlliniHQ (@IlliniHQ) April 26, 2017
Smith heard the pitch from a pair of blue bloods and a perennial Big Ten title contender. Kentucky and Michigan State both offered.
Duke came in late with some interest and an in-home visit.
But Illinois — even after the coaching change from John Groce to Brad Underwood — remained in the picture.
And after making one more visit to Champaign last week, Smith committed to Underwood and the Illini on Wednesday evening at a ceremony at Lucco-Jackson Gym in Edwardsville.
Smith’s commitment is a positive bounce for Illinois after both five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon and three-star guard Javon Pickett requested and received their National Letter of Intent release.
That cut Illinois’ Class of 2017 in half and dropped the Illini out of the top 15 national team rankings.
Adding Smith to a class that still boasts Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams will give Illinois a bump back in a positive direction.
Smith averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game for Edwardsville this past season.
The 6-foot-5 guard held mid-major offers until late December when Kansas State was the first power six team to offer.
Illinois offered soon after before a rush of a dozen more high major offers between January and early April.
Getting closer to decision time. A fair number of Mark Smith fans have made their way into Lucco-Jackson Gym, with about 10 minutes to go. Plenty of cameras, recorders and microphones, too. About the same number of media members as Jeremiah Tilmon's signing ceremony last November.
The one thing captivating those in attendance here in Edwardsville is the Clubhouse Shops bag that sits on the table waiting for Smith. There's clearly a hat in the bag.
No one, however, has peeked. That's probably poor form.
— Michael Kiser (@MichaelWDWS) April 26, 2017
Still about 25 minutes until Mark Smith will announce his decision. Say it is Illinois. Not only would this be a good get for the Illini in terms of pure basketball reasons, but also for perception.
For the first time in quite a while, the Metro East area boasted a quartet of high major prospects in one class. Illinois missed on Jordan Goodwin last summer when the 2016 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year picked Saint Louis. Both Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett signing with Illinois but requesting and receiving their NLI releases made the Illini 0 for 3.
A complete whiff on legitimate downstate talent would have been a blow. Maybe it would have been lessened by the fact there was a coaching change from John Groce to Brad Underwood, but probably not by much.
Of course, there's still a chance Illinois puts up the Metro East 0-fer. Nothing is "official" until Smith announces and will only be officially official when he actually signs.
Good evening everybody. We're coming to you LIVE! from Lucco-Jackson Gym in Edwardsville. Mark Smith, one of the fastest rising 2017 prospects in the country, is less than an hour from announcing his college decision.
Will it be Illinois as is considered highly likely? We'll see. Smith has arrived and, unlike Jeremiah Tilmon, hasn't given anything away yet with the setup of his announcement or what he's wearing.
The tables set up are draped in orange (with black accents), and Smith is wearing an Edwardsville hoodie. More to come from Edwardsville, so stay tuned. Smith's announcement will also be broadcast live on WDWS.
Today's the day. Edwardsville senior Mark Smith is set to announce his college decision at 6 p.m. at Edwardsville High School (live on WDWS).
It's been a crazy recruitment for the 2017 News-Gazette All-State Player of the Year and Illinois Mr. Basketball winner. His first high major offer came in late December. By late March, perennial Big Ten contender Michigan State was in the picture. The next week saw Kentucky join in.
Now, Smith will choose his college basketball destination. Take a little time to catch up on the meteoric rise of the 6-foot-5 guard:
— IlliniHQ (@IlliniHQ) April 24, 2017
— Trent (@_Trentfrazier1) April 26, 2017
— Trent (@_Trentfrazier1) April 25, 2017