Oklahoma State basketball: Move across DFW made a world of difference for Cowboys' Marcus Smart
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No. 17 Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma
* When: 12:45 p.m., Saturday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* Radio: OSU KXXY-FM 96.1; OU KOKC-AM 1520
* TV: Big 12 Network (Cox 11 and 711 HD; Dish 34; DirectTV 34; U-Verse 34 and 1034 HD)
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* The game is officially a sellout, OSU's second this season.
* OSU is 60-42 in Bedlam games inside Gallagher-Iba Arena and has won three straight in the series at home.
* The Sooners lost a key cog when guard Buddy Hield suffered a broken foot in Monday night's win over TCU. Hield scored 15 points and had four rebounds and four assists in OSU's win over the Cowboys in Norman.
Marcus had already spent time at an alternative school, due to the fighting, and his return to his regular school painted him as a sort of bad boy.
Friends suddenly avoided him and viewed him with a wary eye.
“It was like I went to prison and when I came back, everybody was looking at me and I got labeled,” said Marcus of that ninth-grade year. ‘There's Marcus, I don't want to hang around with him. There's going to be some trouble.' “People looked at me different. I would go to class, people didn't want to work with me. Didn't want to talk with me. For a kid, 13-, 14-years old, dang.
“I went home crying to my mom and I told her, ‘I'm ready to move.' She said, ‘Me, too.'”
Marcus and Camellia had discussed moving before, with nothing coming of it. But she had sensed a disturbance in Marcus, recognizing the anger.
And his stint at the alternative school only hastened her action for a change.
“One day, I went to class, I get home and she's packing up,” said Marcus. “I said, ‘What's going on?' She said, ‘We're moving.'”
It wasn't all that simple. The Smarts – Camellia, Marcus, his dad Billy Frank Smart and an uncle – would be leaving behind friends and family and church.
And, Camellia said, home is home, never easy to leave. She faced her own issues, too, with a health condition requiring kidney dialysis three times a week.
“I prayed about it. I talked with my pastor. I talked with my sisters and brothers,” she said. “And they told me they didn't want me to go, but if that's what I had to do to make it better for Marcus, they would understand.
“And it was hard for me to make that move at first, because I was always around my family members. But they understood. And I knew what I had to do for my child.”
Still, where would they go?
Camellia looked to Lewisville and Carrollton, seeking guidance from a family friend, Phil Forte Sr., whose son Phil had played AAU basketball with Marcus since grade school.
Phil attended Flower Mound's Marcus High in the same area and suggested the Smarts take a look there. Liking what they found, the Smarts found a three-bedroom, ranch-style house in Flower Mound, and headed across town.
To a new home. And a new life.
The change was drastic for the Smarts.
Gunshots no longer framed the night, only silence. Outside, there was no constant fear of danger. Almost immediately, Marcus said a peace enveloped the family.
Camellia had already put Marcus in an anger management class, following the incidents that led to his stint at the alternative school.
“That helped a lot,” she said. “And the church, the pastor, going to the altar and praying. That helped out tremendously.”
But the move addressed a lot of the angst, although there was a time in the beginning when Marcus felt out of place, going from a predominantly African-American school and neighborhood to a predominantly-white environment.
“I walked into my first class, and I know when you're the new kid, everybody's going to look,” Marcus said, “but I was the only black kid in the class. I was saggin', they weren't used to that. I'm seeing kids dressed up in Polos.
“I'm like, ‘Why are they looking at me?' I'm wearing a hoody, my pants are hangin' below my waist. And they're just looking at me, like, ‘Who is this and why is he here?'”
Eventually, he fit in. Having a friend in Forte helped.
So did basketball, with Marcus and Forte forming a dual force that led Flower Mound Marcus to a 115-6 record over three seasons, capped by back-to-back state championships as juniors and seniors.
The two stars remained close, signing to play together at OSU, where they're roommates and still best friends. Phil's dad, Phil Sr., travels together with Camellia to most of the Cowboys games.
“Not that these kids up here don't get in trouble,” said Forte Sr., “but Marcus was surrounded by a pretty good group. And everyone loved one another and everyone was trying to help one another.
“Not that they didn't love him where he used to live, but when you have people who love and believe in you, I think it goes a long way.”
More than anything, however, the move released the stress on Marcus and his mom.
“I felt like it was a big boulder lifted off my shoulder,” Marcus said. “I felt like I could breathe again. I had no worries. I could see it in my mom, her health was getting better because she wasn't stressed anymore. That was a big key factor for me, seeing that my mom was OK.”
Marcus Smart has witnessed a lot in his 18 years.
Witnessed two lives worth, the way he sees it.
“Going back and looking back at both of my lives, when I was in Lancaster and when I moved to Flower Mound, those are totally different environments,” Marcus said. “That was my past there, with that school and everything.
“I'm glad I made the move. It bettered my life and it took a lot of stress off of my mom. This was a better decision for my life.”
Life is better all around now, too.
Marcus stands as one of the buzz stories of this college basketball season, regularly adored by TV announcers and praised for his intangibles by coaches like Florida's Billy Donovan and Gonzaga's Mark Few, who had him on the Team USA U18 team in Brazil.
And back in Flower Mound, the family is well, and that includes his brother Michael.
“He's doing great,” Marcus said. “He works at UPS. He's doing good. He's sticking with it. He's not making excuses. He doesn't have any get-rich schemes.
“He's becoming a man. And I'm proud of him.”
Personally, Marcus said he counts his blessings every day, taking nothing for granted, knowing where he's been over the span of two lives.
“Now I'm a D-1 college basketball player at Oklahoma State,” he said. “I'm living the life that most kids would chop off their right arm for, a paid scholarship to go to college for free. Kids parents are out here struggling to get them to college, my mom doesn't pay anything.
“It's a blessing. I thank God every day. I'm doing something productive with my life.”