By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
The signature moment of Oklahoma State’s monumental win at Kansas on Saturday didn’t come during the game.
It came right after.
Marcus Smart capped his virtuoso performance with some Marshall Henderson-esque postgame flair (minus the middle fingers), backflipping on the legendary Jayhawk as a goodbye salute to the stunned Kansas fans departing with the rare taste of home defeat.
“I was celebrating for a moment,” Markel Brown recalled. “Then I turn around and I see him doing backflips and I’m like, ‘Woah, what is he doing?’ ”
It was bold. It was acrobatic. And, in a way, it was disrespectful.
But above all else, it was signature Marcus Smart. Cool confidence from a rare breed of competitor, shining on the type of stage he was born to play on. Off the court, he’s humble and likable. But on it, he’s a ruthless bully, gladly exploiting any weakness he can find.
And those competitive juices were still flowing seconds after his game-clinching steal, which completed an end-to-end destruction of Elijah Johnson’s psyche (KU’s fifth-year senior point guard who was manhandled by a player four years younger).
The patented Marcus Smart backflip seemed right in the moment (it dates back to high school). But once emotions settled down, Smart rightfully questioned the blatant showmanship.
“He asked me after, ‘Did I go over the top doing a backflip on their home court?’ ” Phil Forte revealed. “I was like, ‘You got in the moment, that’s Allen Fieldhouse, who knows how many teams can say that.’ He wasn’t trying to make a statement, he just loves to win and in the moment, he wants to win more than anything.”
No one can really blame Smart. You get a certain creative freedom, even for over-the-top gymnastic moves, after you drop a 25-point, 9-rebound, 5-steal masterpiece in The Phog, physically intimidating the 2nd-ranked team in the nation before you can legally drink. It’s not as if Marek Soucek was cartwheeling to the locker room or the walk-ons broke out in Gangam Style at center court.
Bill Self didn’t even mention it postgame (he was too busy lauding Smart’s play and torching his ‘soft’ team). But rest assured, later this month Self will have that YouTube backflip cued up on a constant loop in Jayhawk headquarters. Look what he did to you, and then look what he did on your court.
And really, that’s the only drawback to the postgame backflip. It’s an easy motivational tool for Kansas when they visit Stillwater on Feb. 20. It’s the definitive image of that embarrassing loss.
“Probably prefer (he not do it),” Travis Ford admitted Monday. “But anybody that knows Marcus Smart knows that’s not something (out of disrespect). He’s excited about a win. We’ve had teams do that to us, celebrate when we’ve lost. And it’s a little bit a sign of respect. Now Kansas is going to show it (to their players), going to show our guys celebrating, no question. But that’s respect, we know how hard it is to beat Kansas period, I don’t care where it’s at. But you know, it’s a natural reaction, maybe not a backflip, but it’s a natural reaction.”
Smart likely doesn’t care if Kansas uses it as pregame hype. And I know Markel Brown could care less (“They can take it how they want to take it. We still got the win,” he said Monday). But it’s provided an interesting talking point.
And something to watch for as his career moves forward. This is one from Smart’s high school state title win: