STILLWATER – Markel Brown heard all about Marcus Smart. And he held high hope that the incoming freshman could help turn things around in Stillwater.
Still, realistically, Brown wondered what one guy could do.
As the Cowboys stand 23-7 overall and ranked No. 13 nationally, having just completed a 13-5 run through the Big 12, Brown now knows. A year ago, OSU finished 15-18 — the program's first losing season since 1987-88.
The rest of the league has caught on, too. Sunday, Smart was named Big 12 Player of the Year, as well as Big 12 Freshman of the Year in a vote of the league's coaches.
“It's kind of hard to believe that one guy can turn a whole team around,” Brown said. “And Marcus Smart did that with this team.
“He's a very tough player. Even if he's not having a good shooting night, you don't even notice it. The way he's out there playing, he never gives up, he plays tough and he's going to go out and give it his all every night.”
Smart's on-floor intensity is offset by his off-the-court persona: humble. Predictably, he deflected credit for the honors, which extended to nods on the All-Big 12 First team, the Big 12 All-Rookie Team and the Big 12 All-Defensive teams as a unanimous selection.
“I was a little surprised, because there are a lot of great players who probably deserve it a lot more, who were also doing big things,” Smart said. “There were a lot of options. For the league coaches to choose me is remarkable.
“There are a lot of great teams, a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches in the Big 12. And it's an honor just to be the one that they choose to win these awards.
“I'm thankful for it. My teammates, all the credit goes to them. Because without them, I wouldn't be in the position to win these awards. So I thank my teammates. It's a blessing.”
Smart is the fourth OSU player to be named Big 12 Player of the Year, joining James Anderson (2010), Tony Allen (2004) and John Lucas (2004) and the school's seventh conference player of the year overall. Allen and Lucas were split winners with Allen receiving the coaches' nod and Lucas the Associated Press pick.
He's just the third freshman to be named both Big 12 Freshman and Player of the Year, along with Kevin Durant of Texas and Michael Beasley of Kansas State.