The University of Illinois already has four recruits signed for this next year's freshman class, including three guards. But Illini coaches Bruce Weber and Jerrance Howard were seen observing the Chicago Marshall vs. Chicago Curie playoff matchup Friday.
While they were there to see junior commitment Crandall Head play his final game of the year, they also witnessed an All-Star caliber performance from Darius Smith. A friend of Head's, Smith be on their recruiting radar according to Joe Hendricksen, author of the City/Suburban Hoops Report for the Chicago Sun-Times. Hendricksen made his remards on WDWS radio Saturday morning.
"I just think any good staff is gonna take care of business. You never know what's gonna happen in college basketball. You don't know who's gonna transfer. You have to be prepared and stay involved, especially with kids you really like. And with someone in your back yard, there's no reason not to stay involved."
Smith filled the stat sheet in helping Marshall to a convincing win over Curie. He scored 17 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, was credited with 12 steals, dished out 4 assists and added one block.
He's only 6'-1", 6'-2", but he has extremely quick hands," Hendricksen relates. "He's a terrific competitor. I have him right now as the #2 prospect in that class, right behind (Illinois signee) Brandon Paul. As a senior he's been perhaps the most productive basketball player. I don't think he's the best prospect. I think Brandon Paul is the best prospect because his upside and ceiling is better."
Hendricksen's description of Smith's play points out his uniqueness as a basketball player.
"Darius brings a completely different dimension to a basketball team. The players Illinois has coming in is a terrific class, but Darius Smith is an absolute winner. He's done it at every level, both AAU and high school. He competes, he gets after it. He's a terrific defender. He disrupts things, he makes the players around him better, he makes the team he's on better. He is a glue guy.
"He's an impact player who's probably gonna come in and impact in some way as a freshman because of his defensive presence and his ability to play the one or two. He's kind of a different player. He's not a true point guard, and he's not a terrific shooter 2 guard.
"He does so many different things. He fills up a stat sheet and gets so much production. He's such an intriguing prospect because of that. He'll put a team on his back and carry it. He has the unique characteristics that make him a special, special prospect."
Darius is becoming a popular young man in recruiting circles.
"He's completely wide open when it comes to recruiting, and he's not really concentrating on it at all right now with the state tournament going on. Darius Smith is going to be one of the hottest commodities in the April signing period. I don't want to take anything away from Calvin Brock, who was a big target five years ago. But this is not your Calvin Brock type of player."
It is unclear why he didn't sign with someone last fall, although he supposedly qualified late. Hendrickson offers his thoughts as well.
"In the fall, some of the people who handled his recruiting shifted gears. There was a coaching change, and the coach who took over has been his mentor since 8th grade. So that played a part in it.
"Minnesota was the one school I thought was gonna nab him in the fall, but he didn't pull the trigger because some people were saying he could do bigger than Minnesota. As a result, Minnesota filled up their scholarships.
"Something can be said about waiting it out, if the right opportunity's not there for you. No one can say he made a mistake because he's gotten a much bigger interest level. I know for a fact that Duke has shown some considerable interest. I don't think Duke has offered, but there are some bigger schools that are really in on him that weren't on him back in the fall.
"Washington State, Arizona State and Missouri were pretty involved with him. I'm not saying he won't land at one of those schools, but there are some big dogs coming in like Duke and Kentucky right now."
So is Illinois recruiting Darius Smith? Maybe.
"I know they have a scholarship available, but they don't really have one the following year. I personally think Illinois would love to have him if some things opened up. I think he fills another dimension from the guys they already have."