[As editor/publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, a high school basketball publication for nearly two decades and recruiting service, I have awarded a Player of the Year in Illinois for the past 21 years. The following is the 22nd recipient of the award.]
City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year: Mark Smith, Edwardsville
What were the odds?
When the 2016-2017 season began and Player of the Year awards were discussed, what were the odds Edwardsville’s Mark Smith would even be mentioned in that regard when the season concluded?
There were no odds on Smith, who wasn’t even listed among potential POY and Mr. Basketball candidates.
Heck, there were three other prime player of the year candidates in Smith’s back yard in metro east area standouts Jeremiah Tilmon of East St. Louis, Jordan Goodwin of Belleville Althoff and Javon Pickett of Belleville East.
But fast-forward four months and Smith, a late-blooming 6-4 guard who was recruited by low-major and mid-major programs prior to his senior year, is an easy choice as the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Player of the Year in Illinois.
Add that to the growing list of postseason awards, which includes the prestigious Mr. Basketball Award and Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.
“When I was younger, yes, I thought about it,” says Smith of the idea of being Mr. Basketball in his state and other player of the year awards. “I wanted to be Mr. Basketball when I was a kid. But I actually did start to envision it again a little in December.”
This is the first time in the 22-year history of the City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year award where the recipient wasn’t even on the radar when the season began. Smith is also the first Player of the Year from outside the Chicago area since Shaun Livingston of Peoria Central won the award in 2004.
Smith simply says “he feels blessed” by all that has transpired over the course of his senior year. The former Missouri baseball recruit dedicated himself to basketball, worked extremely hard on his game in the summer and fall, his confidence grew and a magical senior year followed.
“I really want to thank God, my great parents, my teammates, my high school coaches and my coaches with the Southwest Illinois Jets/United, because they all had a big part in my success,” says Smith, who averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds a game. “Now to be mentioned with all the great players before me and to be recognized as the best player in Illinois is an honor, a great feeling.”
As a result of his ascension to a starring role, Smith has gone from a senior taking visits to Wright State, Northern Illinois and SIUE in the fall to being coveted by the likes of Illinois, Northwestern, Missouri, DePaul, Kansas State, Texas, Ohio State, Indiana, Butler and others.
The recruiting process will speed up now that his high school season is over. The plan for Smith, which is expected to be a busy and active one over the next couple of weeks, is to take a whole bunch of unofficial visits. He says he expects to then narrow it down and take the remaining two official visits he has remaining.
“My family and I hope to make a decision by the April signing period,” says Smith of the April 12 date that begins the spring period. “I just need to get out and visit some schools.”
That big decision is just around the corner, but the big, strong, talented guard has put in the work and now been rewarded after helping his team to a 30-2 record and sectional championship.
“It feels great to know I put in the work, put my focus into basketball and that it’s all really paid off,” says Smith.
Past City/Suburban Hoops Report Players of the Year
2017: Mark Smith, Edwardsville
2016: Charlie Moore, Morgan Park
2015: Jalen Brunson, Stevenson
2014: Jahlil Okafor, Young
2013: Jahlil Okafor, Young
2012: Jabari Parker, Simeon
2011: Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park
2010: Jereme Richmond, Waukegan
2009: Drew Crawford, Naperville Central
2008: Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor
2007: Derrick Rose, Simeon
2006: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North
2005: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North
2004: Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central
2003: Shannon Brown, Proviso East
2002: Dee Brown, Proviso East
2001: Pierre Pierce, Westmont
2000: Dwyane Wade, Richards
1999: Leon Smith, King
1998: Quentin Richardson, Young
1997: Brian Wardle, Hinsdale Central
1996: Ronnie Fields, Farragut