STILLWATER — Marcus Smart remained poised, brushing off Final Four talk and downplaying the obvious expectations that came with Wednesday's decision.
And Le'Bryan Nash followed suit, avoiding the bait that could have led to a LeBron-like ‘Not one, not two …' guarantee.
“Expectations are going to be high,” Nash admitted after the Student Union presser that seemed more like a pep rally. “But we can't get too high on what we haven't done yet.”
Coach Travis Ford certainly had his returning stars schooled in the public relations game. But there's a simple fact that nobody, not even the most ardent Kansas fan, can truthfully deny.
Oklahoma State could enter next season as the Big 12 favorite, threatening to end Kansas' nine-year conference reign.
As a whole, the Big 12 is down. National pundits expect it to be even worse than this year, when it was already a shell of its former basketball self.
Kansas State loses Rodney McGruder. Texas loses Myck Kabango. Baylor loses Pierre Jackson. Iowa State loses three starters. And Kansas loses its entire starting lineup.
It's a conference lined with inexperienced players and unknown rosters.
But not in Stillwater.
The Cowboys boast the Big 12's top three returning scorers (Smart, Nash and Markel Brown) and get back all seven of their leading scorers from a season ago. That's unheard of in this era of college hoops.
And that all starts with Smart, who became the first Big 12 Player of the Year to return to school in 15 years (Raef LeFrantz in 1997-98) and will likely enter next season as a Preseason All-American.
From there, it's a wealth of depth.
Markel Brown is an underrated and improving All-Big 12 Second Teamer, who has 100 games and 1,071 points already under his belt.
And the rest of the loaded nine-man rotation is filled with emerging veterans (Nash, Michael Cobbins, Brian Williams), talented second-year guys (Kamari Murphy, Phil Forte) and incoming scorers (Stevie Clark, Derrick Mostella).
“We basically got the whole team back,” Smart said. “We're definitely going to work hard and make sure we don't regret this decision that we made.”
In all likelihood, OSU will be ranked in the top-10 (maybe 15) in the preseason poll, the first time a Ford-coached team will have a number next to its name before play begins.
And with that comes inherent pressure and unavoidable questions.
Can Ford get the most out of this talented group? How will they handle the expected hype? Will Bill Self's latest crew mesh quickly?
Time will tell. But the pieces are there, thanks in large part to the three-man crew who announced their return on Wednesday afternoon in Stillwater.
“We're aware (of the expectations),” Markel Brown said. “We talked about it, and we know that we're going to be ranked up there with the best and we have to live up to that ranking … But my three years here, we've never been preseason ranked. So that's going to feel good.”