Opponents have taken notice of Forte’s impact. Despite the threats that Smart, Brown and Nash pose, several Big 12 teams decided to dedicate major attention to slowing Forte down the stretch. Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas all attached defenders to his hip at all times, seemingly beginning with pregame introductions and continuing through time outs, although there’s no confirmation that those defenders attempted to shadow Forte to the halftime locker room.
Kansas approached Forte differently after he torched the Jayhawks for seven 3-pointers and 23 points in a close loss in Lawrence.
“First of all, he’s tough,” said KU coach Bill Self. “Phil is tough. He does a terrific job of moving without the ball. And he’s got a quick release — he may have the quickest release in the country.”
It’s a telling testament for OSU’s fourth scoring option, yet one he’s used to.
“It’s different, kind of what I got in high school a lot,” Forte said, “so it’s kind of going back to those days. You have to be really smart in the way you get open. Watch a lot of film and continue to evaluate yourself on a game to game basis.”
At the college level, defenders are longer and quicker, ramping up the challenges to find shooting space.
“The learning curve has been the important thing for me,” he said. “You have to work a lot harder and be smarter, ways of coming off screens. Ways to get open. And find ways to get my shot off.”
Many wondered how Forte’s game would translate at this level. He played alongside Smart at Flower Mound Marcus High (Texas), so his prep days were spent with an elite running buddy on the floor. Still, it was Forte who was named MVP of the Texas Class 5A State Tournament their senior season, when he averaged 17 points a game in semifinals and finals.
Forte’s quick trigger requires little setup or room to operate for him to get his shot off.
And he’ll be looking for room against Gonzaga on Friday. Will the Zags be looking for him, or focused on Smart, Brown and Nash?
While opponents from here on are sure to recognize Forte’s skills, the scouting reports and game plans aren’t as focused and come with little if any first-hand knowledge. And in the case that they do fully respect him, chances are they don’t appreciate what it takes to hold him.
A lot of chasing.
A lot of fighting through screens.
And then there’s the quick release.
“We’re going to need him to step up and score some points for us,” Brown said. “Everybody in the country knows that me, Le’Bryan and Marcus are going to be keyed on, it’s about what the other guys are going to do to step up and help us win.”