STILLWATER — Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash strolled across campus Wednesday to deliver the rousing news. To reach the Student Union, where the players themselves suggested the pep rally be staged, they walked against a slight breeze and a mighty big grain.
The Cowboy trio is coming back to school next season.
What a day for OSU basketball. What a day for college basketball. What a day for the university itself.
Most campus hoop stars count down their time, like sand through the hourglass, until they can go pro. They've got one foot out the door of their new school by the time they get one foot in. Treat their time on campus like Purgatory, until Heaven beckons.
But Smart says he will forgo NBA riches for a year, and his sidekicks will, too.
Their return promises quite a 2013-14 season for the Cowboys. Offers precious respite for a sport whose players bolt like they're fleeing a tsunami. And provides affirmation for OSU that money can't buy.
“It says a lot about this university,” said State coach Travis Ford. “They could have loved their teammates, they could have loved me, but if they didn't enjoy getting up every morning, and walking across this campus and being a part of this school, they wouldn't have stayed.
“It says a lot about their experience, that they enjoy going to school. So many players make the decision to leave college because they don't want to go to school anymore.”
Ford is right. College basketball coaches can be insufferable at times, but most of them are not Mike Rice. Most players are fond of their coach. And still they hear the siren song of the NBA.
These guys didn't.
Strange. OSU athletic director Mike Holder likes to talk about college as the place that produces dreams. But Smart, Brown and Nash delayed their dreams.
What a quaint notion. Big-time basketball players treating college as something other than boot camp.
“Just followed my heart,” Smart said. “This is where it's at. I think I made the right decision.”
Yes, Smart knows the pros and cons of his decision — “I'm aware how much money I am giving up.” – but some things money can't buy.
Like another year of college basketball. Not every 10-year NBA player wishes he had stayed a little longer on campus or could go back. But those that do, can't.
“OSU is where I want to be another year,” Smart said. “I'm a Cowboy at heart.”
This is the kind of talk you hear from Dukies and not much of anyone else. Oh, occasionally a freshman star will return — Blake Griffin, Jared Sullinger — but it's becoming more and more rare.
Smart is not starting a revolution. This won't turn back the tide in college hoops' favor. For every Smart, there still will be 10 Ben McLemores headed for the lottery and 50 Amath M'Bayes headed overseas.
But when it happens, when a 19-year-old kid in the materialistic 21st century makes a decision based not on financial bonanza, he should be celebrated.
OSU president Burns Hargis heard Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talk the other day about most people looking back on the best time in their life.
“The answer was college,” Hargis said. “College was great.”
Nothing reinforced that like the smiles on the faces of Smart and Brown (Nash stays pretty stoic).
“Pretty exciting news,” Hargis said. “I think it's a statement to the group of people Travis Ford has recruited. They just have marvelous chemistry.
“It's a testament to the university, to the program, to the individual. They all, I think, really love it here and everybody loves them. It's great to be in that nurturing environment.”
When the press conference ended, the pep rally didn't. Smart, Brown, Nash and their teammates melted into the crush of students who packed the Student Union atrium. Heaven could wait.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.