Illini pitch to 4-star Edwardville guard Mark Smith: 'Make history'

Illinois Mr. Basketball, Edwardsville 4-star guard Mark Smith is getting closer to a decision. He discusses his thoughts on Illinois and new coach Brad Underwood..

Mark Smith trades text messages every day with Tom Izzo and John Calipari. Such is the life of one of the country's best uncommitted guards.

"It leaves you speechless because you watch them so much growing up, Coach Calipari and Coach Izzo," Smith told at the Derby Classic in Louisville. "Then they're in your house and you text them a lot, it's kind of crazy that you're actually talking to two legends and two Hall of Fame coaches."

That kind of attention seemingly will make it tough for Illinois coach Brad Underwood to keep the 2017 Illinois Mr. Basketball within the state's borders.

But Underwood and his staff are putting the full-court press on Smith in hopes that he'll be the foundation piece of their Illini rebuild. They visited with Smith in his home last week.

"I've been talking to all the (Illinois) coaches a lot and been in constant contact," Smith said. "I'm building a relationship with them. I might go there on an unofficial visit soon. I'm not sure. My family and I are still talking about what we're going to do."

Michigan State is pitching Smith to be a complementary piece to the Big Ten favorite Spartans next season before eventually taking on a lead role, much like top-20 NBA Draft picks and former Sparty guards Denzel Valentine and Gary Harris.

"They feel they can develop me into an NBA player and we can get to the Final Four, a national championship game," Smith said.

Kentucky is pitching Smith as yet another future first-round draft pick in their NBA factory.

"Just kind of a combo guard," Smith said. "(Calipari) showed me videos of Jamal Murray as a spot-up shooter and play off the ball and ball screens and hit open shots."

Illinois, meanwhile, is coming off four straight missed NCAA Tournaments. Deron Williams and Luther Head were the last Illini guards drafted in the first round -- back in 2005.

But Underwood -- who has made four straight NCAA Tournaments as a head coach, developed Jawun Evans into a possible first-round draft pick and has a high-paced, highly-efficient offense -- ushers in a new era.

And the new Illini coach is selling Smith to be the one who brings back the glory -- to be a legend in his home state.

"They want me really bad," Smith said. "(Underwood) talked to me about how he got the job and how they'd love for me to be a part of Illinois basketball and try to change it and make history."

Smith told reporters he has no visits set in stone. He has one official visit remaining, and a trip to Lexington is likely though Ohio State also is a possibility.

Smith also hasn't set a decision date yet. The spring signing period ends on May 17.

"I don't know," Smith said. "Whenever I can get down to Kentucky and the other schools on my list."

What's important to him during the decision-making process?

"I know I'm going to have a great education wherever I go," Smith said. "Just having an impact as a freshman and developing as a basketball player as best I can so I can hopefully achieve my dream and go to the NBA."

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