STILLWATER — Fran Fraschilla, the coach turned college basketball analyst, fired off a recent tweet that should ring sweet for Oklahoma State fans.
“Somehow I think Marcus Smart is good for 6 to 8 more Cowboy wins this year.”
From last year’s disappointing 15-18 finish, that’s a boost to 21-12 or 23-10.
All that from one guy; and a freshman at that?
Smart hasn’t played a minute of official hoops at OSU, yet he’s already setting up as the new face — and a shining face — of the program.
And at a time when OSU basketball stands at a crossroads of sorts, having missed the past two NCAA Tournaments and desperate to reignite a fan base, the Cowboys can use a fresh face capable of flipping their fortunes.
“You have to be careful praising young guys,” said OSU coach Travis Ford, “but he does everything.”
Most notably, he wins.
Two Texas Class 5A state championships at Flower Mound Marcus High School. Summer ball championships, including the 2011 Adidas Super 64, when he scored 29 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a title game win over UCLA prized signee Shabazz Muhammad’s squad.
An international championship, starting and starring for Team USA’s gold medal team in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Brazil.
It was there where Smart’s legend grew, buoyed by the praises and ravings of the U.S. team’s coaches — Florida’s Billy Donovan, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and VCU’s Shaka Smart.
“I didn’t know him at all and we were never really involved in recruiting him,” Donovan said. “The only thing I knew about Marcus Smart was watching him play, that he was a gifted and talented player.
“But just being around him for that whole trip, I have not seen a guy that age with the internal makeup and the ‘it’ factor like he’s got. It’s really, really impressive. It’s a great thing to watch. It’s so clear why he’s going to be this great player.”
What’s clear to Donovan and others goes beyond the obvious indicators like the traditional stat line.
Smart’s greatest traits are intangibles.
“The No. 1 thing when you watch him play,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, “you see that competitiveness, that will to win. Him diving on the floor, taking charges, playing unselfish.
“Defensively, he’s an animal. He handles the ball. He passes it. He just does everything really, really well. And he really competes.”
Scoring and rebounding? Yeah, he can do that.
A McDonald’s All-American and a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas, Smart averaged 15.1 points a game as a prep senior.
“I’m not really concerned with the scoring,” Smart said. “I can score, but it’s not my main focus.”
Making winning plays — all sorts of plays — that’s Smart’s aim. So if he’s not filling up the basket, he’s filling up the stat sheet.
And the win column.
His final year at Marcus High, he averaged 9.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.2 blocked shots while shooting 66.9 percent from the floor. He also drew 43 charges.
And Marcus High went 39-2. Smart’s teams went 115-6 during his three years.
“There are a lot of players who think they have to score 30 points to do their job,” Smart said. “You can impact the game with so many other attributes than just scoring. It doesn’t matter how we win, as long as we win. If I score zero points, the win is all I’m worried about.”
Starting all five games for Team USA this summer, he led all players in the tournament with 18 steals and tied for third with 20 assists.
“A lot of young players, it’s all about them,” Donovan said. “They’re only focused on themselves, how it’s going for them. I’ve never seen a kid that age have an unbelievable awareness of what everyone around him is experiencing.
“I really enjoyed being around him. I told Travis he’s going to have a ball coaching him.”
Ford has assembled a fair share of talented pieces at OSU. Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Brian Williams among them.
Yet for all the talent, something’s been missing, a straw to stir the mix.
“He has that ability to bring out the best in other people around him,” Donovan said. “Every coach is teaching guys to get on the floor for loose basketballs. But if you have a guy who’s a really good player doing that, it grabs everybody’s attention.
“Marcus is willing to do the things that a lot of other players would not be willing to do to win. You can play him in any role, tell him what you need, and he’ll give you what you need.”
What the Cowboys need is a point guard, somebody to lock down a position in disarray since Byron Eaton’s eligibility ran out four seasons ago.
Some wonder if the 6-foot-4 Smart projects as a full-time point guard.
Those who have watched him most closely, however, harbor no doubts.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who tried to lure Smart to Chapel Hill, reportedly told Flower Mound Marcus coach Danny Henderson that he could see Smart playing four positions on the floor.
“‘I don’t know where he’d play,’” Henderson said Williams told him, “‘but I know this, we won’t be able to keep him off the floor.’”
Donovan played Smart at both guard positions in Brazil, but primarily used him at the point.
“There’s nothing he can’t do,” Donovan said. “That kid can play an entire game and never take a shot and still have a deciding impact on the game.
In practices, he’s demonstrated an elevated awareness and vision of the floor, requiring teammates to be aware at all times for no-look bullet passes.
“I think his best position is point guard,” Fraschilla said. “I really do. I think that’s his spot. Whatever you call him, he’s got to have the ball in his hands.”
Maybe asking Smart to handle a regular gig at the point seems like a lot. Maybe asking him to step in and transform a team and even lead — and the Cowboys are — sounds like a heavy burden.
Said Fraschilla: “He’s got the DNA of a champion.”
The mindset, too.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes for this team. Whatever I have to do,” Smart said. “If that involves me being one of the leaders of this team, that definitely will be done.
“We have outstanding players on this team. Outstanding coaching staff. Amazing fan support. And this team is going to be really good and do amazing things. I’m just glad and thankful to be a part of it.”