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Mark Smith says relationship with Cuonzo Martin led to Missouri commitment


Former Illinois point guard and recent Missouri commit Mark Smith was recruited by Cuonzo Martin to join the Tigers a year ago. Even though Smith ultimately chose the Illini, the point guard said his relationship with Martin remained intact.

Smith cited that relationship as the biggest factor that led him to choose Missouri the second time around. He announced his commitment Saturday evening with a Twitter post.

“He has a lot of faith in me, he’s expecting big things from me in the future and I just feel like we have a really good relationship,” Smith said of Martin. “I wasn’t going to make another mistake in not playing for him.”

Former Illinois point guard Mark Smith committed to Missouri on Saturday. (USA Today)

Smith, who is originally from the St. Louis suburb of Edwardsville, Ill., picked Missouri over Kansas State, Creighton, Georgia and Nevada, among other suitors. He will have to sit out the 2018-2019 season due to NCAA regulations.

Smith visited Missouri’s campus on Friday and Saturday before announcing his decision. On the visit, he and his parents saw the team’s facilities inside Mizzou Arena, looked at potential living places and spent time with the Tiger players. Smith said that during his time on campus, Martin’s sales pitch was that Missouri would be the best place for him to fulfill his potential.

“(Martin) was just saying I could come back and I could do a lot of big things,” Smith said. “He thinks I have a lot of potential and he said he’ll help me achieve my dreams, and I believe in him.”

Smith was actually committed to the Tigers at one point during high school — as a baseball player. Eventually, however, he shifted his focus to basketball and withdrew his commitment. A breakout senior season at Edwardsville High School earned him a 4-star rating, and Smith ultimately picked Illinois over the likes of Missouri, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State. As a freshman, he largely struggled, averaging 5.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 31 games. He started 19 of Illinois’ first 22 games, but came off the bench in its last nine. He was also hospitalized at one point in the season due to a case of the flu. Smith scored 11 points against Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights matchup on Dec. 23 — the last time he scored in double figures all season.

Smith, who saw his ball-handling duties at Illinois diminish along with his playing time as the season went on, said he will primarily play point guard at Missouri — a position of need at the moment for the Tigers, who will lose senior Jordan Geist to graduation before Smith becomes eligible. However, Smith said Martin will also likely employ him as a shooting guard at times.

“(Martin) is going to use me in a lot of different ways,” Smith said. “He’s going to use me any way I can to be a playmaker.”

Smith could also prove valuable in another role: as a recruiter. Missouri is currently targeting several high-profile prospects from the St. Louis area, including class of 2018 point guard Courtney Ramey and 2019 wing E.J. Liddell. Smith said he is close friends with both players.

“I think I’ll be a factor in helping recruit those guys,” Smith said.

In all, Smith said he envisions himself providing Missouri with a leader and a playmaker.

“Last time, I chose my state school, but this time I’m back committed to Mizzou,” he said.