ST. LOUIS -- The Illini had some of the best players from the 618 area at the Scottrade Center on Wednesday for the Braggin' Rights game, and that included Edwardsville senior combo guard Mark Smith -- a player with rapidly-increasing interest from fans and the Illinois coaching staff.
Smith was invited as a recruiting guest with his parents, and he came out to watch the Illini win 75-66.
"It's a pretty cool moment right now," Smith told IlliniInquirer.com from his courtside seat. "I've grown up watching Illinois my whole life and watching this game on TV. This is just an amazing experience to be here."
The 6-foot-4 guard is in the midst of a huge season, as he is showcasing his athleticism, toughness, vision and ability to score from different levels on the court. With scholarships available, Illinois has kept close tabs.
Illini assistant Jamall Walker watched Smith at an open gym earlier this month. Smith said they are getting more and more familiar with each other.
"I think we got a pretty good relationship," he said. "We've talked a few times already. He's honest with me, and I like that."
Smith got to sit next to a player that Walker successfully landed: Belleville East wing Javon Pickett. He and Pickett played together with Jets/Ramey United on the AAU circuit over the summer.
Pickett is a big fan of his game, and he has a plan for him.
"He has a great motor. Offensively, he can score it. Defensively, he can rebound and get stops. Overall, he could help us out a lot," Pickett said. "I haven’t really started the recruitment yet. I’ve just been focused on basketball. But I’m about to get a buzz in his ear about us so he can just come on and join the family."
Smith is very intrigued by the possibility of joining a very talented 2017 class for the Illini.
"It's a great class. That would be great to be a part of -- to get an offer from Illinois," he said. "It'd be great to play with those guys."
As for the offer part, that is the question that remains on the Illini side. The program would like to wait for head coach John Groce to get a look at him in person.
It would not be a surprise to see Groce in attendance for the Collinsville holiday tournament next week after getting back from Illinois' Big Ten opener at Maryland. In fact, expect it.