SAN JOSE, Calif. — Among the popular tourism slogans from Spain — “Smile! You are in Spain.”
The Cowboys can relate, having spent 10 days traveling Spain's northeastern edge in August.
And they're still smiling.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford planned the Barcelona-based exhibition trip with a sole focus in mind: build chemistry, on the floor with a new point guard in freshman Marcus Smart and off the floor with some much-needed male bonding.
Looking back, the Cowboys consider it the launching point to their successful season at hand, complete with a return to Big 12 prominence and a No. 17 national ranking and the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they'll face Oregon in their opener on Thursday.
“You couldn't understand the language, so it was just the group,” Smart said of the trip. “And you had to stick together and get to know your teammates.
“When we came back, we just kept that with each other. And we've been growing as a team and as brothers. This is a team full of brothers.”
Brothers, it seems, born in Spain.
At the time, the Cowboys were a mix of hopeful holdovers from last year's losing squad and three true freshmen in Smart, Phil Forte and Kamari Murphy. Smart arrived with much hype from high school, much like Le'Bryan Nash the year before. With two other former McDonald's All-Americans, there could have been a clash of personalities.
With these two, it was a coming together.
“I had to build a lot of chemistry with everybody,” Nash said. “And I really built chemistry with Marcus. Me and Marcus probably were together every second, every day of that trip.
“And that's great, when you develop a chemistry like that, it'll take you far in life.”
Nash said he quickly discovered Smart's lighter side, the freshman's grounded nature that has since galvanized an entire program.
“He's real playful. He's a playful kid,” Nash said. “He's always trying to have fun and he lives life to the fullest, like I try to do.
“He just loves playing. He loves this team. And he loves playing with these guys.”
The team took bus tours of Barcelona, taking particular interest in the Olympic sites from the 1992 Summer Games. They walked the streets together, too, always in groups of at least four — by order, although there were almost always more. When the tour took them to the Canary Islands, they enjoyed a day on a catamaran.
The Cowboys did some old school bonding, too. Due to the exorbitant costs of cellphone use overseas, players only used their devices to surf the web or engage on Twitter when wifi was available.
No calls. No texts. No modern communication.
Instead, they went knocking on their teammates' doors to chat or plan an activity or cut up.
“We couldn't talk on the cellphone, so we had to talk to each other,” Nash said. “Watch TV together. Play around with each other. Do things with each other.
“I think that's what led us to having a great season. I thank coach Ford for letting us go on that trip.”
It was all part of the coach's plan.
“It allowed us to get a step ahead,” Ford said, “because we brought in a freshman point guard and literally handed him the ball. It helped X-and-O wise, system wise, but probably more importantly it allowed everybody to get used to each other. It was very, very valuable for us.
“This is one of the closest teams I've been around, they're extremely close. And I think that really helped develop that bond.”
The Cowboys won their four games, mostly with ease.
“We got to know one another, got to know one another's game,” said Markel Brown. “And it started working right away.”
And it worked in every way.
The Cowboys claim a closeness that sees them sticking together regularly, playing video games at one house or another, eating at Nash's house, where he sometimes serves up spaghetti and steaks.
“That's another thing that shows character, how well you can get along with your teammate,” Smart said. “If you don't like somebody, you're not going to play well with them.
“You need that chemistry off the court, but also on the court. And when you have it off the court, it's going to show on the court.”