Henricksen: Thoughts on Mark Smith’s recruitment, state’s top 8th grader’s school choice and more

Simeon's Kezo Brown (2) grabs Edwardsville's Mark Smith (13) in the first half. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

Sure Edwardsville star Mark Smith, one of the best uncommitted seniors in the country, punctuates the exasperating lows with make-you-want-to-believe highs for the fans of the schools still left standing in this recruiting race. But under the circumstances he’s not doing anything abnormal.

There are pleas for Smith and his family “to end it already” and cries “they are playing this thing up” and others asking, “Why is he taking so long?”

Oh, I don’t know, maybe because it’s the biggest decision a teen-aged kid has had to make in his young life, all the cards are in his hands and the circumstances surrounding his rise and recruitment are so unique?

He didn’t secure a high-major offer or any real interest until December of his senior year. By that point Smith was in the middle of his school year and in the midst of playing for a state-ranked team, so lets appreciate a kid having his priorities in order during the winter months.

With a plethora of Division I offers coming his way throughout the winter months, Smith poked around with schools and coaching staffs when time permitted. He even made a couple of trips to Champaign in the middle of the season. By all accounts Illinois was front and center late in what was then Smith’s short “high-major process.”

But John Groce was fired, essentially forcing Smith and his family to start over from scratch.

Then another school and coach who Smith was intrigued with, Indiana and Tom Crean, was fired.

Then Michigan State and Tom Izzo offered in late March while Kentucky and John Calipari offered in early April. Both Duke and UCLA made serious inquiries soon after. Yes, they jumped in late. They didn’t even really see Smith play. But come on, people, these schools, coaches and basketball programs are a wee bit different, wouldn’t you say?

So why wouldn’t Smith take his time? Why wouldn’t the talented 6-4 guard want to get to know the coaches better? Why wouldn’t he want to know the roster makeup of these teams, including waiting to see who was going pro and who wasn’t from those programs? Why wouldn’t the City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year want to get on several campuses to compare and get a better feel?

It’s a bizarro world when this kid and his family –– of all kids and families –– are criticized and questioned by fan bases, media, scouts, message boards and, yes, privately by even some of the college programs recruiting him.

What Smith just went through over the past three-plus months as far as a recruiting process is absolutely abnormal –– and no fault of his own. Plus, he has the luxury of taking his time. What has he lost by taking his time?

Aside from being a little “all over the place” in his recruitment, which has been pointed out here is due more to some odd and unforeseen circumstances than anything, what exactly is expected of Smith? Try and appease the fan bases of these schools or make a quick decision for college coaches who didn’t start recruiting him until the middle of his senior year?

Yes, college coaches, we know you are all convinced you want him and are anxious to wrap up your Class of 2017 classes and move on to the Class of 2018. But he’s still not sure which one of you he wants.

There have been few if any real leaks or news, thus they’ve kept it inside their circle with people they trust. That doesn’t happen a whole lot these days.

They haven’t been grandstanding. It’s the media and internet sites hounding and making constant inquiries and needing updates that has put Smith “out there.”

And the kid himself has handled it about as well as one can considering all that has been thrown his way over the past three-plus months.

Yes, Mark Smith, take your time. The likes of Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan State and Ohio State can wait a little longer.

➤ State’s top young talent will attend Loyola

When it comes to the top talent in this state, there aren’t many bigger or better than Patrick Baldwin, Jr.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report has confirmed Baldwin will be attending Loyola next fall.

Although he’s just an 8th grader, Baldwin is one of the best prospects in Illinois. He’s 6-5, extremely skilled and advanced for his age and the son of former Northwestern player and current assistant Pat Baldwin.

So, yes, when a player of this magnitude makes it official as to where he will be attending high school, it’s news. Baldwin, an 8th grader at Haven Middle Schol in Evanston, will be a coveted college basketball prospect very soon.

Baldwin will join a solid young cast at Loyola which includes current freshman twin brothers Jordan and Bennet Kwiecinski.

➤ Joliet West star headed to Ohio

Teyvion Kirk, the Joliet West star who originally committed and signed with Drake last fall, has found a new home. Kirk has committed to coach Saul Phillips and Ohio.

When Drake head coach Ray Giacaletti abruptly resigned in the middle of the season, Kirk was back on the board. After playing out his senior year, leading the Tigers to a second straight regional championship, the 6-3 point guard saw his recruitment play out over the past couple of months with the likes of St. Bonaventure, Middle Tennessee State, Drake and others heavily involved.

Now Kirk is off to play for a head coach and staff, including assistant coach Jason Kemp, who have recruited the state of Illinois well, including their previous years coaching at North Dakota State.

Chicago area coaching moves

St. Laurence has hired Jimmy Sexton as its new head coach. Sexton will replace outgoing coach Jim Maley, who has resigned to take a new coaching job.

According to sources and as the City/Suburban Hoops Report reported on Friday, Maley will soon be named the new head coach at Conant.

Sexton takes over a program on the uptick. Maley has left a pretty solid stable of young players, including freshmen Finn Walsh and Jeremiah Williams, sophomore Lance Jackson and junior Zion Fortune. The current sophomore group won the Chicago Catholic League championship a year ago, while the current freshmen finished this past season 23-1.

Maley, meanwhile, takes over for a coaching legend as Conant’s Tom McCormack retired after 31 years. All McCormack did was win 13 regionals titles, four sectional championships, took the 1994 team to the Elite Eight and finished with 573 wins.

Maley, who has done a terrific job with the beginning stages of rebuilding both the programs he’s coached at –– Kenwood and St. Laurence –– will now take over an established program at Conant.

While there may not be a whole bunch of talent at the lower levels and the program does lose senior star Jimmy Sotos from a 27-win team, Conant does return promising 6-8 junior Ryan Davis

Conant loses star Jimmy Sotos and a host of other seniors but does return 6-8 junior Ryan Davis and 6-5 junior Ben Schols.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport


  • EvanstonCat

    Northwestern getting the top recruit in the country in about 5 years. GO CATS

  • Norm

    Huge blow for Evanston. Now you can see why Evanston isn’t as good as they should be every year. Private schools stealing their talent

    • CP3

      Norm, everybody who has seen this young fella play in Evanston, saw this coming.

      • Norm

        Was it just because a private school is better or did it have anything to do with our coaches?

        • The Realest

          Wasn’t the best in the area let alone the state. But the 2021 class in Evanston is loaded they will be fine.

        • The Realest

          And from my understanding they promised him the PG. The Loyola not better the parents are getting what they wanted from jump. For him to be the main focus. They dont understand one getting a look you all being seen. smh

          • Larry

            He’s going to struggle,in faam games he ran the point and get the ball stolen every position. He’s not Nojel

          • russ

            He isn’t going to play the point, he will play his natural position the 2 or the three. But you must not have watched him close enough because he looks natural playing point on a team that wasn’t loaded with guards. He played out of his natural position to help the team. If he didn’t play point guard who would’ve been?

    • CCL89

      really stealing talent come on

  • Skywalker

    Over a four-year period, Jim Maley has a record of 44-64, with a weak out of conference schedule. Such a record doesn’t reflect an “up-and-coming” coach. His non-conference schedule at St. Laurence and Kenwood was a joke. Coach Maley never scheduled a game against a ranked team (either local or out-of-state). For example, at St. Laurence, he scheduled Solorio, Hancock, and Kennedy. With all the quality red division teams in CPS, what competitive coach would schedule these “gimmie” games? I wouldn’t be surprised if St. Laurence forced him out. When you look at the direction Brother Rice HS is going with its basketball team, it is clear that St. Laurence needed a change.

  • Bronco Buster

    I wish Jim Maley well on his new job at Conant. It is disingenuous to suggest that he did a terrific job at Kenwood. They were next to last in a weak Red Central division the year he was fired. His Sophomore team won one game and there was very little hope or promise for the program. The facts don’t quite match the narrative.

    • Jumpstart

      I agree. I remember that team. They were 3-21. I imagine Jim Maley is leveraging Kenwood’s recent success and telling people that he built that program. When you look at the roster that played in the city championship game, only one player was coached by Jim Maley. In six years as a head coach, Maley has never won a conference title, ISHA regional championship, or been ranked in any basketball poll. It’s time to give praise to coaches that have truly built quality basketball teams, i.e., Lou Adams, Arthur Goodwin, Rick Malnati.

  • Duke Carnoustie

    Thanks for the update Joe. It’s a shame that people put so much pressure on these young men. Smith comes from a fine family and should be given every chance to explore his options before he should obviously choose John Calipari.

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