“A player like Marcus Smart is so vocal and so tenacious and such a winner that he would impact any program at any level,” Self said this week.
Especially in the biggest games.
In those bright-lights moments, Smart seems to elevate his play, sensing his team's need for a boost. In an early statement win over Tennessee, Smart went for 17 points and nine rebounds. In a rout of then-No. 6 North Carolina State, 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. And in OSU's three losses, games where Smart worked to will the Cowboys to wins, he had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists at Virginia Tech; 23 points and six assists against No. 9 Gonzaga; and a career-high 25 points and five rebounds at No. 18 Kansas State.
Not that Smart takes games, even minutes, off. If anything, his intense work ethic has been an intangible that has become contagious to teammates. Still, he does seem to recognize when he's needed most, especially scoring.
“I think he does have another gear,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “I think he realizes the difference between Kansas State and Tennessee Tech, yeah.”
Phil Forte, who has been Smart's teammate dating back to AAU ball and two Texas state title teams at Flower Mound Marcus High, has seen this all before.
“That's been him,” Forte said. “Every time there's a big game, you can count on him. He loves the spotlight. The thing with him, he's always going to play hard. His motor's always running and he's always trying to do everything he can to give his team a chance to win.”
Early on, he was trying to give himself a chance, particularly against his brother Michael, who was closest in age. Those days are not lost on Marcus.
“Taking me to the gym,” he said, “playing one-on-one against my older brothers. And Michael taking me to play with his friends, taking a beating on the battlefield — the court is my battlefield.
“I was always taught, ‘Give it your all in every game.' But there's just something that comes out whenever it's a big-time game. The atmosphere, there's just a feeling you get that gets you going, that extra oomph inside you and that aggression you want to play.”
MORE FROM NEWSOK
Oklahoma State vs. TCU
* When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
* TV: KOCB-34 (Cox 11/HD 711; Dish 34; DirecTV 34; U-Verse 34, HD 1034)
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* The Horned Frogs have been decimated by injuries. Leading scorer Amric Fields (knee) is out for the season and starting forward Jarvis Ray (foot) is out until mid-February. Freshman center Aaron Durley (knee) was lost before the season began.
* TCU lost at home to Texas Tech on Saturday, missing on what appeared to be its best shot at a Big 12 win.
* The Cowboys have won 10 straight conference home openers.