STILLWATER — Marcus Smart stood midcourt inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, ball cradled under one arm at his hip, issuing a directive more than a suggestion.
The Cowboys had already played seven games — full-court and full-tilt, run-and-gun sessions offered by strength coach Jake Manzelmann as a fun conditioning alternative — and the sweat and dragging legs were a clear indicator of the hard work put in on this random summer afternoon. Several teammates had taken a seat and considered a good day's work done.
Yet there was Smart, acting all Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle,” when the U.S. hockey coach made his guys skate endless sprints following a lackluster loss, blowing his whistle and barking, “Again.”
Smart isn't the coach, he's Oklahoma State's star sophomore. Still, he's every bit this team's leader and driving force, by word and by example.
He's a worker. And, above all, he competes.
In games. In practice. In the summer. Anywhere and everywhere — Smart competes.
“He's probably the best competitor we've played against since I've been coaching at Kansas,” said Jayhawks coach Bill Self. “He's a terrific competitor and he's a great kid.
“He can do a lot of different things. But the biggest thing he does is he wills his team to win. He's a great player, but that is his biggest quality, in my eyes.”
Smart willed the Cowboys into a winner as a freshman, transforming the culture of the club with his unbridled work ethic and a toughness he exemplifies by leading the team in dives on the floor for loose balls. He doesn't play the modern superstar card, preferring getting dirty over playing diva.
He's here for one reason: to win.
Not to score or dunk or launch lovely 3-point shots with an arm extended to accentuate his pose, although he can score and more, like rebound and assist and defend like a maniac.
“We've got a great leader, a guy that we can count on every single day, doing it the same way,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “And yes, he's a good basketball player and all that, but his leadership is tremendous. It's a joy to coach a guy like that every single day.”