STILLWATER — Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash strolled across campus Wednesday to deliver the rousing news. To reach the Student Union, where the players themselves suggested the pep rally be staged, they walked against a slight breeze and a mighty big grain.
The Cowboy trio is coming back to school next season.
What a day for OSU basketball. What a day for college basketball. What a day for the university itself.
Most campus hoop stars count down their time, like sand through the hourglass, until they can go pro. They've got one foot out the door of their new school by the time they get one foot in. Treat their time on campus like Purgatory, until Heaven beckons.
But Smart says he will forgo NBA riches for a year, and his sidekicks will, too.
Their return promises quite a 2013-14 season for the Cowboys. Offers precious respite for a sport whose players bolt like they're fleeing a tsunami. And provides affirmation for OSU that money can't buy.
“It says a lot about this university,” said State coach Travis Ford. “They could have loved their teammates, they could have loved me, but if they didn't enjoy getting up every morning, and walking across this campus and being a part of this school, they wouldn't have stayed.
“It says a lot about their experience, that they enjoy going to school. So many players make the decision to leave college because they don't want to go to school anymore.”
Ford is right. College basketball coaches can be insufferable at times, but most of them are not Mike Rice. Most players are fond of their coach. And still they hear the siren song of the NBA.
These guys didn't.
Strange. OSU athletic director Mike Holder likes to talk about college as the place that produces dreams. But Smart, Brown and Nash delayed their dreams.
What a quaint notion. Big-time basketball players treating college as something other than boot camp.
“Just followed my heart,” Smart said. “This is where it's at. I think I made the right decision.”
Yes, Smart knows the pros and cons of his decision — “I'm aware how much money I am giving up.” – but some things money can't buy.