Mike Pegram, Peegs.com

Mr. Basketball winner Mark Smith visiting Illinois on Thursday

Mark Smith will see Champaign one more time before making a decision.

The home stretch is here for Mr. Basketball winner Mark Smith, and that will include an unofficial visit to Champaign on Thursday -- a source told IlliniInquirer.com.

Michigan State will be in for an in-home visit on Tuesday night. Duke will stop in on Wednesday. The Smith family will likely head to Ohio State this weekend as well, according to a source.

This is an absolutely crucial time for Brad Underwood and his staff, and it's huge that they were able to swing a visit back on their home turf. Smith and his family came to a game on New Year's Day against Ohio State, which is when the Illini officially offered.

Smith was back in early February for a visit when the Illini played Minnesota at the State Farm Center. He was at the Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis as well in December. And Underwood has been down to Edwardsville multiple times for visits, including an in-home with Jamall Walker and Orlando Antigua on April 6.

Smith can be a game-changing get for Underwood. The program has not landed an Illinois Mr. Basketball since Jereme Richmond. But this recruitment is far bigger than perception.

There is an impact to be made right away. Smith's frame and athleticism are ready-made for a Big Ten starter. The Illini have the opportunity to sell with the ability to feature him from the beginning. And the system is a big selling point too.

Underwood wants to push the pace with attacking lead guards, while surrounding them with shooters on the outside and having mobile bigs to free up the ball with screen-and-rolls and pick 'n pops. It worked fantastically at Oklahoma State last season, as the Cowboys went from 153 in offensive efficiency the year before Underwood arrived to No. 1 in the country in his first season.

Point guard Jawun Evans was able to thrive with 19.2 points per game and the No. 3 assist rate in the nation. Underwood certainly had an effect, and he received high praise from CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander on Tuesday as one of the 'slam dunk' hires this offseason.

"Underwood's a tremendous coach, someone who I think will be listed among the top 20 in college hoops within the next few years," Norlander wrote. "This will be a top-25 program again, and likely within the next two years."

Bottom line: Smith is the biggest key of any piece out there right now to Underwood's first surge towards resurgence in Champaign.

"They want me really bad," Smith told Scout.com over the weekend. "(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."

Stay tuned to IlliniInquirer.com for more.


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