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Berry Tramel


Marcus Smart: Watching his teammates will be anguish

by Berry Tramel Modified: February 10, 2014 at 2:05 pm •  Published: February 10, 2014

We wrote a ton about the Marcus Smart story for the Monday Oklahoman, but this story will have some staying power. Here are some other thoughts from the press conference on Sunday night.

* I wish Smart had taken questions. I understand why OSU’s PR firm directed things to proceed the way they did. But it would have been good to hear more from Smart.

NBA people I have talked to said Smart’s status in the draft shouldn’t be affected too much, so long as he takes responsibility for his actions. Smart did that with his apology, but hearing more from him would have been even better.

* Interesting that Smart named Tech fan Jeff Orr and issued his first apology to Orr.

“I just wanted to come out here and say, first, that I want to apologize to the fan, whose name is Jeff Orr,” Smart said. “I want to apologize to my teammates, my coaching staff, Coach Ford, my family and Oklahoma State University. This is not how I condone (conduct) myself. This is not how the program is run, and this is not how I was raised. I let my emotions get the best of me.”

* I didn’t get to see the OSU players’ faces during the press conference. But I’m told they look aghast while standing at the back of the room.

“I just want to say I truly apologize to those who are very important to me,” Smart said. “I feel like I let my teammates down. These guys mean a lot to me, and not being able to be out there with them will hit me in my heart.”

Watching these next three OSU games will be the three roughest days of Smart’s life.

* OSU athletic director Mike Holder conducted himself well. He usually does. Holder doesn’t really play around.

“It’s my privilege today to be up here and address this situation,” Holder said.

I don’t think he misspoke. I think he meant that. He did consider it a privilege.

“I think the message for all of us, especially those of us who are Cowboys, members of our athletic team, our coaches, all our fans, is some things are more important than winning or losing,” Holder said. “Your respect that you have, your self-image, all of it that takes a lifetime to build, can be gone within a blink of an eye.

“Playing competitive athletics is a privilege. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. That privilege can be taken away from you. There are things that matter a whole lot more than winning and losing. I value playing by the rules and being a good sport. Good sportsmanship encompasses a lot. That’s a big word.

“For the most part, of the 47 years that I’ve been here, I’ve been very proud of the way our athletes and coaches have represented our institution. Last night wasn’t our finest hour. It wasn’t Marcus Smart’s finest hour. How we deal with that is a whole lot more important, in my opinion, than what happened. I think what happened last night will not define Marcus and will not define us. It’s what’s going to happen going forward that is really the crucial piece of the puzzle.”

* I thought Holder was really poignant talking about Smart’s relationship with the university decades into the future.

“As bad as it was, I’m still proud that (Smart) is a Cowboy,” Holder said. “I know we are blessed that he chose to come here. This isn’t the end-all, be-all. We’ve got many more years of association together, and there is going to be a lot more pride, rather than regret, that we came together.”

* Holder talks straight.

“I’ve marveled at a lot of the things he has done,” Holder said of Smart. “I admire a lot of the things that he stands for. I look forward to seeing how he deals with this adversity. I think we’ll all be impressed with it, but talk is cheap. The proof is in the pudding. My job is to stand by him, give him the support that he needs and make sure he knows that we love him and care about him.”

* I knew Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was part of the U.S. Olympic Committee, but I guess I never associated Bowlsby having to be in Sochi, Russia, with such a responsibility.

“It’s a little difficult because he’s at the Olympic Games, so it wasn’t that easy to get a hold of him this morning,” Holder said. “I felt, and Bob agreed, that it was important to have a quick resolution and deal with it as quickly as possible. That way, it becomes part of our past and hopefully not part of our future and we can get our team back to focusing on playing basketball.”

Holder also chatted with assistant commissioners Tim Weiser and John Underwood. Together they come up with the three-game suspension.

* Holder watched the game on television and knew what Sunday would bring.

“I fully comprehended that I was going to be the one that was going to have the responsibility, along with Coach Ford and Marcus, to deal with it,” Holder said. “I didn’t sleep very much last night. It was a restless night. I thought about what was going to happen. When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was reach out to the Big 12 Conference. That got us to this point.

“Unfortunately, being an athletic director in situations like this doesn’t come with a manual to read about it and study up on it. Your experience is always the best teacher, so we’re all getting a lot of experience and great life lessons. I think all of us will benefit from it, especially Marcus.”

* We still didn’t get anywhere on what’s eating Smart. We know something is. That’s what I wrote about today. He’s just not the same person he was last year, which means he’s not the same player.

“I’ve been around Marcus Smart on a daily basis for two years, and last night was not one of his finer moments, no question,” Travis Ford said. “However, Marcus Smart has had many great moments — as a person and as a player. I know Marcus Smart’s heart. I know how he is hurting. I know how regretful he is right now, and those are the things that make me love Marcus Smart.

“Marcus made a big mistake last night and he knows that. We talked about it extensively. He knows we obviously do not condone things of that matter. He has owned up to it, but I love Marcus Smart for the person he is. I know this is going to make him a better person.”

* I didn’t blame Ford for failing to get Smart off the court in those final seconds. I didn’t think of Tech fans storming the court, and Ford at that moment had no idea what had actually happened on the far baseline, where Smart shoved Jeff Orr.

“As far as the fans storming the court, I didn’t think much about it, because I was still trying to figure out a way to win the game,” Ford said. “As soon as I saw them coming out like they did, it was my first thought — not just Marcus, but our whole team. We had security, and Texas Tech’s security did a great job of helping our players. We take security with us, and they did a great job.”

* I asked Ford if the three-game suspension was solely the shove or was any of it for his extended anger. Smart over the next five minutes calmed down only for a little bit. He was clearly out of control, then he settled down, then became agitated again.

“He was obviously very upset, but I think it was more toward the actual action,” Ford said. “It was the whole scenario. I got him over to me pretty quickly, though. I explained to him that we were still trying to win the game, and he explained to me what happened, very heatedly. As far as what had happened, he was concerned.

“As far as what I told my coaches, I substituted for him, and he was not kicked out of the game. I tried to move on to try to help the rest of the guys who were in the game, trying to figure out what to do next.”

* Soon to be on the OSU docket — more training for athletes on dealing with fans.

“We talked to our players a lot, especially lately, about playing within the lines and not worrying about fans or referees,” Ford said. “Worry about the things that you can control, and our team needs to be a better job of that. We play to the crowd with the way we do things when we go to hostile environments.”

Ford said more discussion with players is probably necessary.

“Maybe go a step further about talking to them about situations that could arise like that,” Ford said. “I’ve spent an enormous amount of time talking about how to handle a situation like that. I haven’t spent an enormous amount of time talking about that particular situation. But maybe because of fans being closer, that becomes a part of the game and we see it all the time.”

That’s a great point. In basketball, fans are getting closer and closer to the court. Front-row seats. Media have been pushed upstairs lots of places.

“I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this situation on both sides, no question,” Ford said. “Fans are now closer to the court than they have ever been before, but we aren’t going to put blame on anyone else. We know Marcus made a mistake. Marcus knows it and feels absolutely terrible about it. There’s no question there is a lot to be learned from this.”

Holder seemed to dismiss the notion of getting Smart counseling, saying there isn’t much you can teach until players go through such an experience as taunting from fans.

“My experience has been that no matter how much you try to prepare an athlete for what’s about to happen, there is nothing like experience,” Holder said. “I coached golf for a long time, and I tried to tell them what it was going to be like when they stepped on the first tee at the national championship, but no amount of words could ever prepare them for what was about to happen.

“What you had to say always mattered a lot more after the event was over. ‘Now I understand what you were talking about.’ I think this will open him up to taking a little bit more counseling or taking a little bit more advice. As I said, some of his greatest strengths are his greatest weaknesses, what’s made him a great athlete and a great competitor can also be a weakness. Sometimes he doesn’t listen as well as he should.

“I’m 65 years old, and I could be criticized for the same thing. My wife tells me that all the time. We never stop learning and never stop growing as people. Going back to what I said originally, a university is a great place to grow and mature, to grow from a young man to a man. Hopefully, we’re doing a good job of that here at Oklahoma State, and as I said, this is a great opportunity for all of us.”


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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