Missouri transfer Mark Smith emerges as an early leader for Kansas State basketball team
When Mark Smith decided last spring to extend his college basketball career by a year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruce Weber didn't hesitate.
After losing two previous recruiting battles, first to Illinois in 2017, and then Missouri the following year, he finally lured Smith to Kansas State.
But even so, Weber wasn't certain just what he was getting in Smith, who chose to leave Missouri after three productive seasons to finish up with the Wildcats in 2021-22. He soon found out, calling Smith the biggest surprise of the summer on a team that included two other Division I transfers as well as a pair of incoming freshmen.
"He comes to work every day with a great attitude and smile on his face and wants to get better, so I guess if there's one player, he would be the guy," Weber said. "When I'm talking leadership, being a good teammate, happy (and) working hard …
"Mark, being in two different programs, being a little older, I just didn't know, to be honest."
Smith, a 6-foot-4 guard from Edwardsville, Illinois, also has been pleased with his transition to K-State, where he felt comfortable enough to immediately take on a leadership role.
"I feel like we've been together for a very long time, just like how all the guys are with each other," Smith said. "Just the atmosphere.
"I feel like we've known each other for four years and I've only been here four months."
Mike McGuirl, another Wildcat guard who opted to come back as a super-senior, has spent his entire career at K-State. But he has been impressed by how quickly Smith impacted the program during the offseason.
"Mark's full of energy," McGuirl said. "Every day, you can count on him to have positive energy and just play hard. It's what we needed.
"He's been around. He's played in the Big 10 and the SEC, so he has a lot of experience. He's a really good player and he knows what he's doing. He's seen things that a lot of us haven't seen, so his leadership has been great."
Smith spent his freshman year at Illinois, where he made 18 starts and averaged 5.8 points per game. After transferring to Missouri as a sophomore, he was slowed by injuries and missed a total of 20 games over the next two seasons but still averaged 11.4 and 10 points.
Last year, Smith started 24 of 26 games for the Tigers, scoring at a 9.7-point clip while shooting 37.2% from the field and 31.5% from 3-point range.
K-State returns four of five starters from last year's team that finished a disappointing 9-20 overall and 4-14 in the Big 12. That includes sophomore point guard Nijel Pack, who led the Wildcats with 12.7 points per game and McGuirl at 11.8 points.
Smith said he expects to fill a variety of roles with the new-look Wildcats, who also return sophomore starters Selton Miguel at a wing and Davion Bradford in the post.
"I'm going to do a lot of playmaking to get guys open," he said. "I feel like I'll get in the lane a lot and finish at the basket.
"Obviously I'm going to play hard and guard and knock down open shots."
As for establishing himself as a leader, that has come naturally, he added.
"Being an older guy on the team I really just wanted lead by example," he said. "That's kind of what I've been, and if the guys need help know they can always come and ask me. I'll always try to help them.
"But I just try to lead by example and work hard and be vocal and just encourage the guys when coach gives us a challenge. Coach always talk about being mission focused and I just try to keep the guys on track."
What Weber appreciates is that Smith does it all with a sunny disposition.
"I met with him the other day and said, 'Are you always happy?' " Weber said.