STILLWATER – Marcus Smart continues to maintain no regrets in returning to Oklahoma State for a sophomore season.
Now, some of what transpired after his return… yeah, maybe some of that could have gone differently.
Smart officially announced his decision to enter the NBA Draft in a reflective and candid one-on-one interview with The Oklahoman on Monday. While he insisted that he made the right decision to play with the Cowboys a second year, saying he gained life lessons and enjoyed extending relationships, Smart also lamented not staying true to himself and his game.
“A lot of times this year, I got caught up trying to be what people wanted me to be, you might say, instead of just being who I am,” Smart said. “Instead of just going out and playing basketball.”
After a freshman season that saw him hailed as Big 12 Player of the Year and an All-American, high praise poured in for Smart. And for the first time, he admitted it might have gone to his head, turning him into something he never intended to be.
“A one-man-show-type deal,” Smart said. “And it wasn’t in a selfish way, it’s just the fierce competitor who wills his team. When his team is struggling, he comes and saves the day.
“In reality, I had other guys that could step up and do it. And those guys really stepped up in key moments. So it wasn’t Marcus Smart comes and saves the day.”
Coaches who have long complimented Smart — Florida’s Billy Donovan, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, VCU’s Shaka Smart and others who have worked with him with USA Basketball — always touted his unselfishness, regularly found in stat sheets that featured an array of assists, steals, rebounds and points.
That complete package defined Smart as a freshman, but at times went missing this season. There were games when Smart forced perimeter shots and, now admittedly, tried to do too much.
“It was more self-inflicted than anything else,” he said. “I put so much pressure on myself to fulfill the goals that I wanted, instead of just letting my team help me a lot. It hurt us in some games.
“And that’s the beauty of having a team. That’s what they’re there for, especially this team. They helped me through a lot of things that went on and went wrong, or went right.
“They were always there, no matter what. That’s the definition of a team. No matter the outcome or the situation, they’re always going to be there and have your back.”
Despite all that, and his own inconsistent season, Smart appeared rested and relaxed and fully committed in saying he found growth in his final season at OSU.
It was last March when he, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash addressed an overflow crowd at the OSU Student Union, revealing their decisions to come back for a united run at a special season.
High expectations crested with a strong start and a No. 5 national ranking, before multiple factors led to a fast fade that at one point included a seven-game losing streak, a three-game suspension for Smart for shoving a Texas Tech fan and – after a rally into the NCAA Tournament – another one-and-done postseason stint.
It wasn’t what Smart wanted expected or wanted, yet he said the season wasn’t a lost cause, either.
“I had a great season here at Oklahoma State,” Smart said. “It’s weird, because I didn’t go to the NBA Draft last year, I chose to come back – which I do not regret at all. A lot of people say I made the wrong decision. But who are they to tell me what I should have done? It’s me, not them.
“I believe I made the right decision. I get to do what I love to do.”
So Smart delayed his NBA entry. And despite critics who have continued to question the decision to return, his pro stock remains strong, with most Draft analysts projecting him as a top-six pick.
He has signed with agent Lee Melchionni of the Wasserman Media Group, which claims Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose, among others. Smart will move to Los Angeles later this week to begin concentrated training in preparation for the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago and the June 26 NBA Draft.
“I don’t think anybody is ever fully ready for what’s about to happen,” Smart said. “But am I excited about it? Definitely. I’m ecstatic about it. This is a wonderful opportunity.
“And I’m blessed just to have the opportunity for my name to be mentioned with the NBA Draft. It’s an honor that most kids and most people dream, and never reach those dreams. And for me to have a chance to reach those dreams is just unbelievable.”
Perhaps a blessing in disguise, too?
In a rare development, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, two storied franchises, are both bound for the lottery. The Lakers have an immediate need for a point guard. And the Celtics could, if they ever move Rajon Rondo in a trade, as many have speculated.
For the most part, Smart said he’s not focusing on his potential destinations through mock drafts or other speculation.
“People tell me about and I hear about it, but as for focusing on it, not really,” he said. “That’s the least of my concerns right now. It’s kind of hard not to see it or hear about it with all the technology and social media that’s going on.
“It is interesting to see those two top franchises in the lottery. It’s just weird, because everybody knows the franchises of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.”
Smart ends his career as a two-time First Team All-Big 12 pick. He was the Big 12 Player of the Year as a freshman. He’ll surely be remembered as one of the most talented players in OSU history. And he said he’ll fondly remember his time in Stillwater.
“I had the time of my life,” Smart said. “It felt good to walk around campus and everyone knows who you are. It’s an amazing feeling. I met some very interesting people here, made some connections with people that I can see myself keeping in contact with for a long time.
“It was just fun. When you’re having fun, you’re not going to have any regrets. Words can’t explain how fun these last two years have been for me.”