CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett know all about Illinois. The three Missouri players had planned to play for the Illini, Smith even did for a year. Now they will suit up against Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game Saturday at 12 p.m. in St. Louis.
“Opposing player on an opposing team, and treated no other way,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said when asked about the three former Illini.
Coach speak and what Underwood truly believes is up for debate. Smith left Champaign after a tumultuous freshman season. The 6-foot-4 guard from Edwardsville finished the season averaging 5.8 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. The highly touted recruit was a major victory for Underwood on the recruiting trail but the guard struggled to find consistency, especially in Big Ten play. Smith started 19 games but decided to leave after just one year.
“He’s a guy that’s playing awfully well, and in Mark’s case made seven 3’s in his last game,” Underwood said about Smith’s play this season. “Jeremiah provides some things that we haven’t seen, and he’s a very good player. He has been very steady, but he’s just another player in another uniform.”
Tilmon and Pickett were both committed to the Illini and head coach John Groce. Once he was fired, Underwood was hired and both guys decided to reopen their recuitments, ending up in Columbia instead of Champaign. This will be the second game playing against Illinois, after Missouri won by 16 in last year’s matchup.
“Obviously there is some tension between, but it’s one of those games you have to go hard, and there’s extra motivation for it,” Illinois sophomore forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili said. “As players we have one goal each game, and that’s to win the game. So it’s the same for us.”
“We don’t have to worry about the other team, because they are a good team obviously,” Illinois senior guard Andres Feliz said. “They’re going to make a run, they’re going to make a basket, and the crowd is going to start going wild, but we got to stick to our plan, and stay together and just do our deal.”