Coming out of Hauser Junior High four years ago, Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Mark Smith had options as an excellent student and highly touted basketball player.
In fact, he almost attended Fenwick.
“In eighth grade, I took a visit to Fenwick and I liked it a lot,” said Smith, who lives in Riverside. “I was very close with (current Fenwick seniors) Mike Smith and Mike Ballard and they were talking about how they really wanted me, Miles Baggett (Whitney Young) and Kailen Lee (St. Ignatius) to come to Fenwick.
“I also talked with (RBHS sophomore head) Coach Reingruber and ultimately chose RB. By the end of my freshman year, I was very glad with my decision to attend RB.”
As a freshman, Smith played up on the sophomore team for Reingruber. Since then, the 6-foot-7 center has been a key contributor on the varsity the past three seasons. He was an all-conference selection in the Metro Suburban as a junior. He’s averaging 8.7 points and 6.7 rebounds and shooting 55 percent from the field (76-for-137) with 29 blocks this season.
“Mark has worked extremely hard to make himself a great player,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said. “His improvement each year is very obvious. He’s a great team leader and captain. Mark is also a very smart and unselfish player who always puts the team first.”
Coming off the best season (28-4, first sectional title) in program history last year, the Bulldogs’ expectations are as high as ever. RBHS is 15-4 and 7-0 in the Metro Suburban Conference this season.
With the exception of an off game against Naperville North at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament, the Bulldogs’ other losses occurred against nationally-ranked Gonzaga Prep from Washington D.C. (Smith had 19 points, 9 rebounds), and elite area teams Fenwick and St. Joseph (RBHS lost to the Friars and Chargers by a combined six points).
“Even though we lost to Fenwick and St. Joe’s, I think we’re really starting to find who we are as a team,” Smith said. “I think we’re really starting to play together a whole lot better.”
With the Bulldogs featuring a plethora of talent on the perimeter in guards Daniko Jackson, Jalen Clanton, Henry Trelenberg and Skyler Nash, Smith balances the lineup perfectly in the paint.
“Mark means a lot to us. His presence inside really opens up the outside,” Jackson said. “He picks and chooses his spots very well. He knows when to shoot and pass.”
Smith’s impact defensively is also substantial as an excellent defender, rebounder and shot blocker. He’s led the team in rebounding 13 of 19 games.
Smith picks Trinity International
With such a versatile skill set, it’s not surprising the Bulldogs’ big man drew recruiting interest from several college basketball programs. He signed his letter of intent to play Trinity International University (a NAIA school in Deerfield) in December 2015.
“I really like the head coach (Boomer Roberts) and the whole coaching staff at Trinity,” Smith said. “Trinity reached out to me early and kept in contact throughout the recruiting process. When I made my official visit, I thought the feeling among the players in the locker room was great.”
Smith, who has a weighted grade point average of 4.1 and is a member of the National Honor Society, was thoroughly impressed with the educational environment at Trinity International.
“I really like Trinity academically,” Smith said. “On my second visit, I went to a bunch of classes. Class size is much smaller and the professors are really good.”
When he joins the Trojans and their decidedly bigger frontline next season, Smith plans on being ready.
“There’s a huge difference as a player from being a high school post to a college wing,” Smith said. “They still want me to play in the post as that’s one of the biggest reasons they recruited me, but I’ll be kind of all over the place at the three, four and five (positions).”
In the meantime, Smith is focused on helping RBHS make another deep run in the state playoffs. He’s also enjoying his final season with his teammates.
“The guys are so hilarious that I don’t even know where to start talking about them,” Smith said. “My schedule has been changed around so many times this year that I’ve ended up in every single lunch period.
“At one point, I was sitting with James Kaczmarczyk and Calvell Randall. (Now) I sit with Jalen, Daniko, Skyler and Jalen Brooks. I can’t even eat lunch because they make me laugh so hard.”