STILLWATER — Ranking college basketball's top 25 freshmen so far, John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus eventually got around to Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart.
At No. 14.
Immediately, the argument was on. Not from Smart or Cowboys coach Travis Ford, but from Sporting News' national hoops writer, Mike DeCourcy.
In a story reviewing college basketball's first month of play — and featuring Smart among the highlights — DeCourcy popped SN's own season preview magazine for not including Smart on one of its three All-America teams, while clearly popping Gasaway for his ranking of Smart.
“That still puts us far ahead of one person who,” DeCourcy wrote, “with a number of games passed, ranked Smart as the No. 14 freshman in the nation.
“No. 14! Among freshmen!
“People, Marcus Smart has been the best college player in the nation to this point.”
Plenty of time remains in this season to settle such a discussion, but Smart's impact on the Cowboys is undeniable. A much-needed glue guy for a talented team previously lacking on-floor direction, Smart has elevated OSU's play and its profile, with the team currently 7-1 and ranked No. 24.
Smart has delivered talent and production, yes, but also grit and toughness and leadership that is transforming the face of the Cowboys.
“That's who I am,” Smart said. “I think everybody on the team sees that. I don't have to try and implement that in everybody else. As long as I go out there and show that this is how I play, this is how we should play, then they'll follow me.”
That's not Smart being cocky, that's just Smart being what this team needs. And his teammates embrace him and his persona.
Smart hardly acts like he's got everything figured out already. Following a handful of games this season — all Cowboys wins — others have marveled at Smart's impressive stat line, while Smart himself has focused on the negative.
After totaling 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots in a 61-49 win over South Florida, Smart said, “Wish I could have those four turnovers back.”
Smart's shooting hasn't been consistent, yet, either: 35.6 percent (31 of 87). Still, he's doing so many other things, as well as playing hard every minute he's on the floor, that it figures that something has to suffer.
Overall, Smart's game is drawing raves on a national scale.
The nation's best freshman? He's on the watch list for the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award, presented locally.
The nation's best player? Remains to be seen, although he's on DeCourcy's watch list.
“We knew he was going to be great,” DeCourcy wrote. “We did not expect that. Smart ranks only third on the OK State team in scoring (13.4), but leads in rebounding (7.4) and assists (5.0). He's had a completely transformative effect on a team that last season finished 15-18.
“It's far too early to say who'll be your Sporting News player of the year — UNLV's Anthony Bennett is pushing for that, as well as freshman of the year — but Smart is in the conversation.”