CHAMPAIGN -- One of the hottest basketball names in the state is Mark Smith from Edwardsville, and on Sunday, the stock-soaring senior picked up an offer from the Illini after attending Illinois' win over Ohio State at the State Farm Center.
Illini head coach John Groce and Jamall Walker sat courtside in Collinsville on Friday, as Smith led his team to the Prairie Farms Holiday Classic title with 35 points against Mr. Basketball favorite and former Illinois priority target Jordan Goodwin. The 6-foot-4 guard was named MVP of the tournament, which included the likes of Goodwin, five-star Illini signee Jeremiah Tilmon and fellow signee Javon Pickett.
Smith stated his case loud and clear with his showing this past week, and he was rewarded with an offer from a program he's been a fan of since he was growing up.
"It means a lot to me. It's a great feeling," Smith told IlliniInquirer.com on Sunday night. "Being at my first Illinois basketball game, it was great. It was loud playing in front of a big crowd. It was awesome."
Smith added that he liked what he saw from the Illini on the court, as they secured a much-needed 75-70 win.
"I thought it was a good game. I liked watching them play. I like the offense they run," Smith said. "Malcolm (Hill) was getting to the bucket. It was just a good game."
After the game concluded, Smith and his family went back into the locker room with Groce and the team. That is when he officially picked up the offer, although he said Groce told him on Friday night that they were going to pull the trigger when he came to campus and gave them his transcripts.
"It's just like a family. You walk in there and it's a family," Smith said of going into the locker room. "It was a cool experience and it was after a good win too."
Smith got to talk with the players, including Hill -- a metro-east product and family friend.
"I got to meet all the players after the game. I got to talk to Malcolm a little bit. He said we're reppin' the 618," Smith said. "It's good to see a player from our area play well. His dad is good friends with my dad so they're friends of the family, and he's having a good season so far."
Smith is having a heck of a season in his own right. He's averaging 21 points, 9.4 assists and eight rebounds per game. And with a strong frame, good bounce, smooth stroke, handles and competitive fire, there's a lot to like from Illinois' perspective.
"They said that I'm another ball-handler and playmaker who can make plays off the dribble and make reads. And that I have a good basketball IQ," Smith said. "They like that I'm built too, and that I can make shots, make plays and make others better."
How does one feel after such a wild week?
"It's been kind of crazy. I just keep going and staying humble," Smith said. "I'm just trying to stay even keel and keep playing. I'm blessed to have this opportunity."
Kansas State also offered Smith a scholarship over the weekend, and he had one from DePaul too. What's next?
"Just want to build a good relationship with the coaches and get on the campus a lot. Just looking for the school that fits me," he said. "I'm making sure I have a good relationship with the coaches, players and just feeling comfortable with everybody."
The Illini and its fan base would love to seal the deal quickly. But Smith isn't sure on a timetable at this point.
"I think it will be a 'feel' thing for me. I still don't know a time," he said. "I just want to make the right decision."
Illinois made the right decision by putting the offer on the table, and Smith has the potential to be a high-upside addition to a 2017 class that has already drawn a ton of deserved excitement.