Florida’s Billy Donovan coached Marcus Smart the past two summers on Team USA squads, with Smart playing a major factor in winning two gold medals.Donovan, speaking to reporters at a press conference Monday, was asked about Smart and his incident Saturday in OSU’s loss at Texas Tech.
“You know, it’s really an unfortunate situation with everything that happened. Obviously, you sit there and see the replay and you don’t know what’s said or what happened and I think, as Travis (Ford) mentioned, he crossed the line with something he shouldn’t have done. But I think, to go along with what Travis said, that he is a great kid.
“I never had one bit of a problem with him, coaching him for the two years with USA. I was really appreciative that he came back for a second year and played. I remember the first year we had there were a couple games that we were up 30, 40 points at halftime and I told him, because we had to play five games in a row, I said, ‘Marcus, I’m not playing you in the second half,’ and he said, ‘No problem, Coach. Whatever I can do to help.’
“He’s always been that type of kid. What people saw from him in that situation against Texas Tech, to me, is totally uncharacteristic. I never saw anything like that coaching him. But I will say this, you know I saw this happen with Joakim Noah. You go from a guy who makes the decision to come back and he gets an enormous amount of publicity and an enormous amount of exposure and all of a sudden everything gets into the fact that this is good for college basketball – Marcus Smart is coming back, here’s a kid who had a chance to leave.
“I don’t know why he came back or didn’t go or what the decision making process was, but I had him during the draft. And I think for Marcus, now I don’t know this, this is just my opinion, my feeling, but because he was a top-five pick a year ago, you feel like you have to play like a top-five pick.
“Whatever that looks like in his mind, what happens is you can never reach that level. Whether he thinks he needs to score 30 points and get 10 assists and five steals, that’s not going to happen. But you feel this unbelievable pressure. I saw it with Noah. When Noah came back after his sophomore year, the pressure he felt to perform every game was totally out of control. Him, he made it out of control. And I told Joakim this, ‘You cannot allow people to rob you of your happiness playing the game.’
“I think in some ways that Marcus has allowed some happiness to get robbed of him in this whole process of coming back, not playing like they want to. Obviously they’ve had some tough losses, they’ve played a tough schedule, he’s the guy and now all of a sudden he goes from four months ago as this unbelievable kid coming back to college basketball to now he is in a situation where he is looked upon in a very negative light.
“And I saw it with Joakim. Joakim at the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore was like a lightning rod. We were unranked, everybody loved the kid and then once the next year started he was a complete villain. You know, chest-thumping and all that stuff. But he had done that since he was a freshman.
“And what happens is, that gets very confusing for young guys. Marcus is a young kid and he’s a competitor and wants to win and I think he’s one of those guys that will just keep on fighting and there’s no question his emotions got the best of him. But I’m not so sure this has something has to do with the pressure he personally has placed on himself at the level he wants to perform at.
“And the quicker he gets to the place where he realizes that he cannot live up to those expectations, he’s got to do what he’s got to do to help the team, I think the better off he his. I think you saw total frustration from him the last couple of weeks. To me, that’s just the frustration of a young kid; that’s a competitor and he really wants to play better and wants his team to do better and he probably didn’t channel it the right way and crossed a line into a really poor situation that I’m sure he really regrets to this day.”