AMES, Iowa – Le’Bryan Nash’s growth and development continue, making his junior year his best yet at Oklahoma State.
Now, how about a senior sendoff?
There’s still work to be done this basketball season, including Saturday’s visit to Iowa State. Beyond the immediate, Nash’s ride as a Cowboy – begun when he donned that orange ten-gallon foam hat on signing day at Dallas Lincoln High School – might not be ready to drift into the sunset just yet.
Nash isn’t fully committing to a return next season, but he’s sure hinting at it strongly.
“I’m still thinking about this year,” Nash said. “It’s still a journey this year. You always have it in the back of your mind, being a senior and the chance to get a degree, too.
“Being a senior, that’d be exciting for me.”
Nash could opt to enter the NBA Draft, although he currently projects as a fringe second-round pick. Playing professionally in the D-League or overseas are also options.
Or he could come back, advance his game further and finally fulfill the expectations – perhaps unfairly – heaped on him as one of the nation’s top-ranked incoming freshmen three years ago.
“I’m 50-50 right now,” Nash said. “I really don’t have any thoughts of it right now, to be honest. I do think about senior year, I don’t know if that says anything about what I’m favoring, but I really do think about it a lot.
“I also think about the NBA. So I’m going to say 50-50.”
Senior Night came and went at OSU, with seniors Markel Brown and Mason Cox recognized, along with sophomore Marcus Smart.
But there was no Nash, who along with Smart and Brown so famously and publicly announced their plans to return last March.
“Everybody thought he’d leave for sure this year,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “I don’t think it’s definite at all. We haven’t talked much about it. I do know if he came back, it’d be an opportunity to continue to get better and garner some incredible recognition and accomplish a lot.
“There are so many things he could accomplish. But I want to leave it up to him and what he wants to do.”
A Senior Night nod was discussed by the player and coach, but Nash said he told Ford he wasn’t sure about leaving. Or staying.
Nash said he’s been influenced by observing Brown, who grew his game through four seasons and enjoyed a four-year run as a Cowboy. And while they are different players, he does recognize similarities in their situations.
“When I see Markel getting better, that helps me a lot,” Nash said. “I see a guy who’s come from not having an elite role to now being the scorer of our team, working on his shot and his ballhandling – everything that he can – to make himself better. And now he’s one of the best two guards in the country.
“I thank him for showing me something. Work can get you a long way.”
Nash, too, has put in the work. And to positive results.
While his scoring average has remained relatively static, ranging from 13.3 as a freshman to 14.4 this season, his offensive game has become much more efficient. His field goal percentage has jumped from 39.4 to 46.2 to a Big 12-best 52.9 this season. And he’s averaging a career-high 5.7 rebounds.
Nash has embraced playing in the post, after arriving and insisting he was a perimeter player and scorer. After firing up 118 3-pointers his first two years – and making less than 25 percent of them – he’s attempted just six 3s this season.
Body language and energy level, once a perception problem, have improved, too.
Looking back, Nash said he wasn’t prepared for all that awaited him as a freshman.
“I was one of those young guys who got all the hype, but I didn’t know the college game,” he said. “And I didn’t have anybody to tell me about it until I got here. Then it hit me in the face. I’m like, ‘Dang, this is college basketball, they really play hard.’
“And I adjusted to it. I’ve learned so much every year and become a better player every year. It’s got me through my junior year. I’m having a great season, and I’m trying to help my team win. I’m going to play as hard as I can. I’m playing defense now, rebounding the ball. It’s just the little things that have helped me out.”
One of Nash’s biggest improvements: consistency.
Where he would often follow big games with on-the-court disappearances in the past, he’s been regularly productive this season, scoring in double digits in all but eight of 30 games.
“I’m proud of his consistency,” Ford said. “That’s an area we always talked about with LB, becoming consistent. He’d play a great game and then not. But he’s probably been one of our most consistent players this year.
“I’m proud of him, much like Markel Brown and a lot of our guys, that when they come through here, they get better each year. It’s something we take a lot of pride in. He’s continually gotten better. I think if he decides to stay, he’d be in position to have a great senior year.”
And the Cowboys, in their post-Smart and Brown era, would look significantly better.
OSU will return Phil Forte, Michael Cobbins, Kamari Murphy, Brian Williams and Leyton Hammonds. Jeffrey Carroll, who is redshirting, has developed a reputation as premium shooter. And Ford and his staff already claim the nation’s No. 19 recruiting class, featuring three Top 100, four-star prospects according to Scout.com, and they’re still in play for two more elite prep players.
As a senior, Nash would finally be in position to fill the role always envisioned for him.
“It’ll be pressure I’m ready for now,” Nash said. “I wasn’t ready for it when I was a freshman. I think it’s going to make me a better player, because there will be more on my hands. And that’s something I like.
“We’ve still got Phil Forte coming back. Kamari Murphy. Michael Cobbins. The list goes on. It’s going to be fun, but it’s also going to be a challenge to step up and take that senior leader role.
“That’s something that makes me want to come back so much. And it’ll be fun.”