STILLWATER — Marcus Smart and Friends stood in the atrium of the Student Union last April as adoration and gratitude cascaded from multiple floors.
Smart was coming back for his sophomore season, and OSU basketball stood taller than at any time since the Eddie Sutton heydays.
Smart's OSU career was all about joy and hope.
Smart stood Sunday in an OSU media room, apologizing to the world for pushing a mouthy Texas Tech fan Saturday night in Lubbock.
Smart's joy was gone long before the shove. Now, too, is the hope.
Smart's mysterious winter took another downward spiral as he apologized and accepted a three-game suspension from a team going nowhere already.
Three games seemed a little stiff — I was thinking two — but what does it matter for a team that once was viewed as a Final Four contender and now is viewed as a no-chance NCAA Tournament team? The short-handed Cowboys, 16-7, have lost four straight, and that streak figures to be seven by the time Smart returns Feb. 22.
I don't know what the Tech blowhard said to Smart, but it doesn't matter. You can't initiate physical contact with a fan. That's black-letter law in sport.
And even if you want to write off Smart's meltdown as a snap decision, you can't so easily explain his next five minutes, when his anger continued to boil.
Well after the final buzzer, OSU officials had to herd Smart to the locker room as he seemed intent on returning to the scene of the crime.
No one could say they saw this coming. But we saw something coming.
The Smart we've seen this season is not the Smart we saw last season. And I'm not even talking quality of play.
Smart's attitude is different. There's an edge to Smart this season that is not good, from those ridiculous early season flops to his instigation of physical confrontations with opponents.
The joy with which Smart played last season, a liberty almost, has been replaced by a burden. For most of this season, Smart seems to be playing with massive weights upon his shoulders. His yoke is not easy; his burden not light.
I don't know which is the real Smart. The media and public aren't permitted to get to know college athletes anymore; believe a coach's testimony at your own risk.
But this we know. This isn't the same phenom we saw last winter.
Is he beset by regret for coming back to what is now a disastrous season?
Is responsibility wearing on him as a season slips from special to sour, from eighth in the AP poll to eighth in the Big 12 race?
The health of Smart's mother is not strong. Is there something personal gnawing at Smart?
We don't know, and Smart wasn't available to answer Sunday. After his apology, which seemed heartfelt and was not scripted, Smart sat at a table while coach Travis Ford answered questions.
It was sort of strange. I was sitting four feet from Smart, asking questions of Ford that only Smart could answer.
“Marcus puts a lot of pressure on himself at times,” Ford said. “It's something we have been addressing for a while. On many occasions he has handled it well, and on a few occasions he hasn't.”
Ford even admitted that Smart has second-guessed himself at times for not declaring for the NBA Draft last spring.
“We talked to him for a long time and told him to just enjoy all the reasons you came back,” Ford said. “It would only be natural for anyone sometimes to sit back and second guess, way before the season even started and feel the weight to an extent.”
The weight on Smart has only increased since the ill-fated trip to Lubbock. It doesn't figure to ease.
The joy is gone. Hard to see how it's coming back.
The NBA can't get here fast enough for Marcus Smart.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.