Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith announced his commitment to the home-state Illini on Wednesday night, ending a recruitment that included late scholarship offers from Kentucky and Michigan State.
Smith — a 6-foot-5 guard from Edwardsville, Ill. — had been an Illinois recruiting priority for months, but several new schools entered the picture over the past few weeks, including Kentucky, which extended a scholarship offer on the first day of the spring recruiting period.
UK also extended an offer that week to California shooting guard Jemarl Baker, who quickly announced his commitment to the Wildcats, possibly taking the spot Kentucky’s coaches had in mind for Smith.
Illinois’ biggest competition going into Smith’s announcement ceremony at his high school was thought to be Michigan State, which hosted the four-star recruit for an official visit two weeks ago. Ohio State also hosted Smith on an official visit last weekend, and Duke coaches visited the player and his family a few days ago.
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Smith never made it to UK for an on-campus visit.
UK’s primary backcourt target appears to be Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, who started an official visit in Lexington on Wednesday and is also considering Arizona, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas Christian and UCLA.
Johnson averaged 11.9 points per game and made a total of 78 three-pointers (shooting 41.5 percent from long range) for the Panthers as a sophomore this past season. He is on track to graduate this spring and will have two seasons of immediate eligibility at his next school.
UK also is recruiting five-star 7-footer Mohamed Bamba and five-star small forward Kevin Knox from the class of 2017.
The Cats have already signed Baker, highly touted point guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, five-star forwards Jarred Vanderbilt and PJ Washington, and five-star center Nick Richards.
UK could also have five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo on next season’s roster. Diallo announced Sunday that he has entered the NBA Draft, but he hasn’t hired an agent and has until May 24 to remove his name from the draft. He enrolled in classes at UK in January and practiced with the team, but he did not play in any games this past season.
DraftExpress.com projects Diallo as the No. 33 overall pick in this year’s draft.