Missouri Illinois Basketball

Missouri's Mark Smith (right) celebrates with head coach Cuonzo Martin (left) during the second half of a game against Illinois in St. Louis on Dec. 22, 2018. Smith, who began his college career at Illinois before transferring to Missouri, now is a member of Kansas State's program. He officially signed with the Wildcats earlier this week.

When Kansas State dipped into the transfer portal, it hoped to add experience and top-flight shooting to its roster.

Mark Smith will provide both for the Wildcats next season.

For head coach Bruce Weber, the third time was a charm. Weber and the Wildcats’ coaching staff had recruited Smith twice before. The first overture came when Smith still was in high school. (He chose Weber’s former school, Illinois.) The second attempt at landing came after Smith’s freshman season, when he decided to leave Illinois. (Smith picked Missouri that time.)

Now, Smith finally is a Wildcat.

“We’re really excited about the addition of Mark,” Weber said in a release. “Obviously, we know him well having recruited him out of high school then again after he decided to leave Illinois. ... It was important to me to reach out to (Missouri head coach) Cuonzo (Martin) after Mark decided to transfer and get his perspective and he was very positive about him. Once I had that conversation, we reached out to Mark and his family, and after some time, we all came to the realization that it was a good fit.”

A 6-foot-5, 220-pound shooting guard, Smith has one year of eligibility remaining after the NCAA granted fall and winter sport student-athletes an additional year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith played at Missouri the past three seasons, appearing in 69 games with 61 starts. During his lone season at Illinois, he played in 31 games and started 18 times.

With 100 college games and 79 starts under his belt, Smith is exactly the type of seasoned veteran Weber wanted to bring into his program.

“It was important for us as a staff to get more experience, especially with all the freshmen we played this year,” Weber said. “Mark is someone who has great experience and has played at a high level in both the Big Ten and SEC and just started in an NCAA Tournament game. He knows how to difficult it is to play in a league like the Big 12 and how to prepare.”

Smith will enter next season needing to score just 113 points to reach the 1,000 as a collegian. He’s averaged 8.9 points per game at the college level, with 40 career double-digit outings. He’s scored 15 or more points 19 times and has five 20-point performances.

He’s also grabbed 319 rebounds and dished out 116 assists to go along with 78 steals.

But it’s his 3-point prowess that will help K-State.

He’s made 35.3% (158 of 448) of his attempts from beyond the arc, with a 37.5% (142-for-379) conversion rate with the Tigers over the past three seasons.

“We needed more shooting and Mark, obviously, fits that bill,” Weber said. “He is a really talented shooter, and at one point, was one of the best 3-point shooters in the country. He knows how to make plays and set up his teammates to make plays.”

Smith will try to rebound next season after a forgettable 2020-21 campaign, when he averaged 9.7 points per game while making just 31.5% of his 3-point attempts; both marks were his worst during his three years as a Tiger.

His first two seasons in Columbia, Mo., were far better.

Despite combining to miss 20 games as a sophomore (2018-19) and junior (2019-20) because of injuries, Smith performed averaged 9.0 points per game on 36% (100-of-278) shooting in SEC play.

During the 2018-19 season, he averaged 11.4 points per game while being a sharpshooter from the field — Smith nailed 43.6% (72-for-165) of his attempts, including a sizzling 45% (49 of 109) success rate on 3-pointers.

“The one thing that we want to do is shoot the ball better, and Mark is a good shooter,” said K-State associate head coach Chris Lowery, who was Smith’s primary recruiter. “He’s had seasons of 40 (percent) or better from the field. He also has a track record of shooting at a high clip from 3-point range and is a good passer. You can initiate stuff with him. He’s an older guy who will fit in our guard group because he can dribble, pass and shoot at a high level.”

Though he’ll soon suit up for the Wildcats, Smith has played against K-State in the past: He tallied 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and a steal in the 2018 Paradise Jam tournament championship game, which K-State won 82-67 in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In his lone season at Illinois in 2017-18, Smith averaged 5.8 points, 1.4 points and 1.4 assists in 19.1 minutes per game.

“Mark has great experience,” Lowery said. “He has started several high-level games in two different leagues. He has played in packed arenas in hostile environments. He has been through scouting reports with some of the top teams in both leagues, and now he can bring that experience to our young crew.

“The biggest thing about Mark is that he’s made tough shots in tough situations. He’s been a starter on an NCAA Tournament team. He’ll just bring a level of steadiness and ease. He also has a high IQ and has a great understanding of how to play. He’s also a graduate, so he has the maturity to handle the academic side.”

Smith was one of the nation’s most highly touted high school prospects during his time at Edwardsville High in Edwardsville, Ill. He was Illinois’ Gatorade Player of the Year as well as the state’s Mr. Basketball as a senior after leading the Tigers to a 30-2 record and the Class 4A super sectionals. He was a first-team all-state selection by The Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Champaign News-Gazette and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association after averaging 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He hit 44 triples and connected on 82% of his free throws that season.

Smith was a consensus four-star prospect, coming in at No. 55 in Rivals’ rankings of the 2017 class.

He becomes the 29th Division I player to transfer to K-State, and the second on the 2021-22 roster. (Kaosi Ezeagu, who started his career at Texas El-Paso, is the other.) He’s also the third graduate transfer the Wildcats have added, joining Jermaine Maybank (2006-07) and Mawdo Sallah (2017-18).

Smith is the second member of the Wildcats’ 2022 recruiting class to officially join the fold. Wisconsin high schooler Logan Landers signed with K-State during the fall signing period in November.

The Wildcats bring back Mike McGuirl, who, like Smith, is taking advantage of the NCAA waiver on eligibility to have one more go-round in Manhattan. The freshmen core of Nijel Pack, Selton Miguel and Davion Bradford also will be back next season. The trio combined to start 71 games in 2020-21, the second-most starts by freshmen of any team in Division I this past season. They combined to average 25.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Smith now is the newest piece of the puzzle.

“Mark just has a really good feel for the game,” Weber said. “You don’t play college basketball at this level and not have a good feel for how to play. It’s something besides his shooting. He wants to have the ball in his hands to not only make plays for himself, but for others. He gives us another versatile athlete who can play anywhere.”

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