The day Le’Bryan Nash sported a gigantic orange cowboy hat to announce his commitment to Oklahoma State, no one thought he would make it to his sophomore season in Stillwater, much less his senior one.
He was widely expected to be a one-and-done player. He’d spend a year in orange, star for the Cowboys, then bolt for the NBA.
Things didn’t work out that way.
But Nash still has a chance to be a star for the Cowboys and springboard himself into the NBA.
He just has to come back for one more season.
As the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft approaches, Nash says he hasn’t decided whether to return to OSU for his senior year or leave for the NBA. He posted as much on his Twitter account Sunday night after a report surfaced saying he had decided to stay in school.
Chances are good that report will ultimately prove true. Nash already has a draft assessment from the NBA, and it’s likely less-than-favorable. He might be a late second-round pick but is much more likely to go undrafted. No contract. No guarantees. That’s the sort of thing that compels players to stay in school.
But the truth is, a return to OSU would be great for Nash.
Great, too, for the Cowboys.
OSU, of course, is losing Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, both of whom could be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft. Still, Cowboy coach Travis Ford is talking optimistically about next year’s team. Part of that is because of a talented incoming bunch, but much of his optimism is because of who returns.
Nash is at the top of that list.
“Everything he talks about is coming back,” Ford said during a small end-of-season gathering of local media earlier this month, “and he’s excited about it for the right reasons.”
Nash should be excited about the potential of next season. For starters, he’ll be the main man. Phil Forte, Michael Cobbins, Kamari Murphy are solid. Leyton Hammonds and Jeffrey Carroll are intriguing. Jared Terrell, Mitchell Solomon and the rest of a talented group of signees are promising. But Nash is clearly the best of the bunch.
And he’ll have a chance to play at his natural position. Injuries forced him to play in the post much of this past season, but next season, he should be able to return to small forward.
Offensively, Nash will be able to use his size and strength on smaller players. He has a decent outside shot, but after a year playing in the paint, he also has an expanded repertoire of moves. He can post up. He can back down. He needs to work more on his ball handling to maximize the move back to small forward, but still, he’ll be much harder to guard at that position.
But perhaps the best thing about Nash being able to move back to small forward will be that he doesn’t have to guard bigger players. He got into foul trouble regularly this past season, and part of that was being undersized while playing out of position.
Less fouls means more minutes, and that means Nash should have more of a chance to affect games.
Now, don’t go overboard and read too much into that positivity. I don’t foresee Nash becoming a national player of the year candidate or a lottery pick.
But first-team All-Big 12 and first-round pick?
Nash has had an NBA body since high school. But when asked to carry a huge load as a freshman, his broad shoulders couldn’t make up for what his game lacked. Then, Smart arrived on campus and Brown emerged from obscurity and Nash found himself playing third fiddle the past two years.
All the pieces of the puzzle never fit quite right.
Next season, they might.
Even though Nash said he hasn’t made up his mind about the NBA, you have to wonder if the decision’s done and the announcement’s coming. Maybe he wants to do it big. Maybe he wants to have some fun.
Maybe we’ll get to see that big orange hat.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.