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.
“It's an honor to be in the same category as the two other players who have won these awards before,” Smart said. “It's amazing. It's a big accomplishment for me. I'm just ecstatic about it.”
Sophomore forward Michael Cobbins joined Smart on the All-Big 12 Defensive Team. Smart leads the league in steals, while Cobbins is fifth in blocked shots. Markel Brown was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team, while Le'Bryan Nash earned Third Team honors and Cobbins was listed as honorable mention.
It's the second straight season for an OSU player to be recognized as Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Le'Bryan Nash shared the honor with Baylor's Quincy Miller last season.
Smart, following a wildly successful Texas prep career at Flower Mound Marcus High, took over the point guard position and has started every game for the Cowboys, who finished third in the Big 12, one game behind co-champions Kansas and Kansas State.
One of the nation's top recruits coming into OSU, Smart has lived up to the advance billing, averaging 15.1 points per game, 4.3 assists and 3.0 steals — all ranking among the Big 12's leaders. He tops the league in steals and ranks fifth in scoring and sixth in assists. His 5.7 rebounds per game make him the only player in the conference ranking in the top 15 of those four major categories.
It's that all-around impact, coupled with an array of intangibles, that prompted coaches league wide to rave about Smart with regularity and likely lifted him above Kansas senior center Jeff Withey in the Player of the Year voting.
“Make no mistake about it, the key to that whole thing is what Smart does,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said after the Cowboys' win in Fort Worth on Feb. 27. “He's special. He's really special.”
When asked how he'd celebrate Sunday's big news, Smart remained low key.
“I'm not going to do much to celebrate,” he said. “These awards, I won them, it's over. We've still got a lot of basketball to take care of. So we've got to get ready for business and Thursday's game. I'll relish in the moment right now. And tomorrow put that past me.
“I might go to Braum's and get a milkshake or something.”