STILLWATER — Marcus Smart and Co. brought the rowdy back to Gallagher-Iba Arena.
On Wednesday, Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash brought some rowdy to the Student Union.
Oklahoma State students, administrators and fans packed the place, cramming into every space in the three-story atrium of the facility. Many leaned over guardrails, peering down to the ground floor where OSU's three amigos would carry out their decision day.
There were “Orange Power” and “Final Four” chants. And there were frequent screams of “I love you …”
And then it escalated, with first Nash, then Brown and finally Smart stepping to the microphone to announce he'd be back for another season, drawing a roar of approval with each confirmation.
Orange power indeed for the Cowboys going forward, as they're all but certain to enter next year as the overwhelming Big 12 favorite and a potential top-10 team.
Smart's return is most notable, considering he'd been projected as a high pick — maybe even No. 1 in certain scenarios — in the June NBA Draft. Yet after wrangling with the decision to stay or go for weeks, volleying back and forth on a daily basis, one more run with his pals and more time as a “kid” were the clinching factors in his return.
“To be honest, even when I made the decision, I still went back and forth,” Smart said. “‘Am I making the right decision? Am I sure?'
“It just came down to, ‘Am I ultimately happy about it?' You can only be a kid once. Once you take that step and go to the next level, it's business. You're no longer a kid. You go on to the real world. I'm only 19.”
Not that it was an easy decision for Smart. Both sides offered great appeal, with the NBA promising a multi-million-dollar bank account. “I'm aware how much money I'm giving up,” Smart said. “I am aware of that. It's a lot of money. But I feel like I made the right decision.”
But in the end, Smart said, it wasn't a decision built on money.
“I definitely pinched myself a couple times,” Smart said. “Those kind of numbers are obscene. I don't come from a family where money is a big deal. So my thing is, how can you miss something you never had? I've never had money like that.
“There's much more to life than money. You can have all the money in the world and still be unhappy. If it's meant to be, God has a plan.”
Smart's decision instead was built on family. And friends.
Having lost one brother to cancer and nearly losing another to drugs. Having run from bullets and anger issues and depression himself as a youngster growing up in a bad neighborhood. Having witnessed and dealt with all that, Smart said faith is his one unfailing place to turn.
And to faith he turned Monday night, after accepting the Wayman Tisdale Award as the nation's top freshman in Oklahoma City.
“It was dwelling with me inside, both ways,” Smart said of the decision. “My mom came to me after the banquet and she said, ‘I've been praying. Whatever you want, I'm happy for you. I think you know what you want. Yeah, it's hard, you want both. But just go with your heart.'
“And I prayed that night and woke up the next morning and talked to her again and made my decision. OSU is where I wanted to be one more year and enjoy being a kid.”
A kid who ranks among the best college basketball players in the country.
The Cowboys lose only center Philip Jurick from a team that went 24-9 and ended a two-year NCAA Tournament drought. In Smart, Brown and Nash, they'll have the Big 12's top three returning scorers. And overall, they'll return their top seven scorers.
Brown and Nash's decisions to return are significant, too, with each key cogs to OSU's success.
Nash progressed as a sophomore, accepting and thriving as a forward, a role he'd resisted previously.
“This is one of the hardest decisions of my life,” Nash said to the Student Union gathering. “It took a lot. I talked to Coach (Travis) Ford and I talked to my family. I decided to come back for my junior year.”
Brown bettered his game, revealing an improved shot that showed he wasn't just a one-dimensional dunker, raising his NBA stock in the process.
As he stepped to the microphone Wednesday, he enjoyed some back-and-forth with the crowd.
“How y'all doin?” he said.
Eventually someone cried out, ‘Tell us your decision!”
Brown offered back: “What you think I should do, man?”
This day, in this environment, there was no doubt.
So he will.
“I've had the time to talk to my family, talk to my grandma and my uncles,” Brown said, “and we all came up with the decision that it was time for me to keep building on this legacy here at Oklahoma State.”
By the scene and the sound inside the Student Union on Wednesday, Smart, Brown and Nash are building on a basketball revival at OSU.
“I'm just glad that this group of guys right here,” Smart said, looking left and right, “including me, and the coaching staff, were able to bring the rowdiness back and continue this thing that we have.
“It's a special thing. We thank the fans. We love these guys for coming out and supporting us. It's incredible.”