ST. LOUIS- The college basketball world is in full “talking season”, as players and coaches gear up for an upcoming season that has the potential to be unlike any we’ve seen in recent memory. New and relaxed transfer rules, along with the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID pandemic unleashed a record tide of player movement.
Among those on the move was Mark Smith, the Edwardsville High School grad who played his freshman year at Illinois, transferred to Missouri and played three seasons in Columbia. Smith gave no indication during last season that he planned to play the extra year, but announced soon after the Tigers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament that he was entering the transfer portal. He quickly landed at Kansas State, having known Bruce Weber and his staff for several years from his previous recruiting process.
“I thought I had a solid year at Mizzou, thought I could do better,” Smith told reporters in a Zoom interview Wednesday. “I just didn’t like my role at Mizzou….I thought I could do more besides just being a shooter.” At Kansas State, Smith will play anywhere from the 1 to the 4 spot on the floor, with the goal of being a playmaker and a finisher at the basket, in addition to spot-up shooting.
Smith has impressed Weber’s staff with his early leadership and is an early surprise. “When I’m talking leadership, being a good teammate, happy, working hard, and we got a lot of guys,” Weber told reporters recently. “I didn’t know if Mark (Smith) being in two different programs and being a little older, I just didn’t know to be honest. I told him the other day I met with him I just said, ‘Are you always happy?… He comes every day with a great attitude and a smile on his face and wants to get better.”
In Manhattan, Smith joins a pair of Wildcats also from the St. Louis area in guard Luke Kasubke (Chaminade) and forward/center Davion Bradford (Mehlville), who are about to start their second seasons after playing as freshmen. Kasubke missed most of the year due to foot surgery and would have redshirted if it weren’t clear that players would regain a year of eligibility.
“They say he’s playing like Chaminade Luke and I would agree,” Smith said of what he’s observed in offseason workouts. “I saw Luke play at Chaminade and he was a beast, he’s really playing great basketball.” Smith said he hosted Bradford on a recruiting visit to Columbia before Bradford chose K-State and the two have been close friends.
“He works very hard. He comes in every day and does extra conditioning so he’s looking great out there. He’s really vocal. I say Davion’s a leader also…a lot of people listen to what he has to say.”