COLUMBIA, Mo. – Mark Smith, Dru Smith, Mitchell Smith.
Three Tiger teammates who aren’t related but have the same last name.
Each member of the trio figures to contribute on the court this season as Missouri men’s basketball tries to get back to the NCAA Tournament, starting with Wednesday’s 7 p.m. season opener against Incarnate Word.
While their last names may match, where each of them stands in the current landscape of the program differs.
Dru Smith has yet to make his official MU debut. The redshirt junior sat out last season due to NCAA rules after transferring to Columbia from Evansville. He is viewed as one of the Tigers' two primary point guards, along with Xavier Pinson.
Mark Smith was one of the most consistent players for Missouri last season before a leg injury late in a Southeastern Conference game against Arkansas put him on a long road to recovery. The junior is starting to feel like himself again, the guy that led the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage for a long stretch last year.
Mitchell Smith, a redshirt junior, is expected to play a similar role to a year ago, when he appeared in 31 games as a reserve player.
None of the three Smiths have played with two other MU teammates with their last name before, but they’re excited about the opportunity.
Dru Smith said he’s close not only with his namesakes, but he’s built strong relationships with the entire team.
“It’s a real brotherhood just being around these guys all the time,” Dru said. “We easily spend more time with each other than we do our family or anybody else.”
Dru and Mark lived together last year, seeing each other every day at Mizzou Arena and also away from the gym.
Mark was there for Dru when Dru found out he’d have to wait 365 days to play in another official basketball game after transferring.
“It’s tough to kind of put into words, because it's kind of a weird thing because usually you don't take this long of a break,” Dru said. “So I don’t really know how I’m feeling. I'm just ready to get out there and show everybody what our team’s been working on.”
Added Mark: “Dru is probably one of the funniest guys on the team. Dru, he’s such a good playmaker. ... Whoever he’s playing with, he's making them better, really can get to the basket and he knocks down open shots. So he's just a good all-around player.”
Playing for Evansville, a mid-major program in a conference that annually receives one NCAA Tournament berth, allowed Dru to thrive as a bigger fish in a smaller pond than he’ll swim in at Missouri.
But in the past 20 years of Division I men’s basketball, only five players have logged 500 or more minutes in a season while shooting 55% or higher from the field, 45% or more from 3-point range and at least 85% from the free-throw line. Dru is one of them, and he’s the only active NCAA athlete to do so.
Dru joins the likes of Sterling Brown, who accomplished the feat at Southern Methodist and now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as Thomas Welsh, the former UCLA star who was a 2018 second-round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets.
“I think Dru is one of the older guys on the team. He's like the dad of the team, kind of,” sophomore guard Torrence Watson said. “He’s engaged as well. He really is like a dad. ... I haven’t really seen much that he can't do.”
Mark may take on a little bit of a different role in 2019 as a more all-around threat now that other teams in the SEC are aware of his shooting ability from the perimeter. He only played in 19 games last season because of his injury.
“I’m doing good, I’m feeling good, my body feels good,” Mark said. “I’m really excited just to get back out there. ... My legs are starting to get back under me.”
As his former roommate, Dru got a front-row seat to Mark’s season coming to a close last winter.
“It’s tough for anybody because you're going through the season, he's putting all that work in, and it's kind of taken away from you,” Dru said of Mark. “It’s tough to keep your head up, but I think he did a good job with it. He worked hard to get back to where he is right now. We were all excited for him to see him back out on the court.”
Mitchell averaged about 12 minutes of playing time per game last season, posting 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
“I think he’s improved a lot. Really, his confidence has improved,” Dru said of Mitchell. “I think his ability to step out and shoot it, I think he's gotten a lot more consistent with that. ... I think he looks really good.”
No matter where the Smith trio stands, they all want to see the Tigers get back into the national conversation.
That starts Wednesday night with their season opener at home against Incarnate Word.
“We’re all different guys and we all bring different stuff to the table,” Mitchell said.