STILLWATER — Marcus Smart's invitation to last week's Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas, involving almost exclusively NBA pros, wasn't just some token nice gesture to college kid.
It was a calculated inclusion for a player already owning an international basketball résumé — and building on it to project an even bolder international future.
Jim Boeheim, the Hall of Fame coach of Syracuse who is also serving as the committee chair and assisting head coach Mike Krzyzewski with Team USA, has targeted Smart for the squad, both now and later.
“He's just a competitor,” Boeheim said. “He gets things done. And he wins.”
Boeheim has watched Smart closely, with the Oklahoma State sophomore directing back-to-back USA wins at the FIBA U19 World Championship the past two years.
“We hadn't won the 19-and-under in a while, and we win two with him,” Boeheim said. “He wins games. He's an unbelievable competitor. It's been fun having him on our teams.”
Smart and Creighton's Doug McDermott were the only collegians participating in Vegas, where 28 young NBA players filled two rosters. And both were visible.
“They played well,” Boeheim said. “They more than held their own. I think it was a good experience for them, and I think the exposure was good, playing against these kinds of guys with a lot of NBA people watching.”
Smart, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, said he enjoyed the experience, matching up with some of the NBA's rising stars at guard.
“It was incredible going against some of the youngest talent in the NBA,” Smart said. “I was going against the likes of Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kemba Walker and Ty Lawson. Incredible guys.
“And I think I did very well for the time being out there. Talked to them and a lot of them said I did well and they liked the way I played and held my own out there …
“It just opens my eyes to a lot of things. I'm a good player, and my confidence and self esteem are high because I'm out here competing with these guys.”
Smart's unselfish style and humble persona made for an easy transition in the mostly pro environment. Yet while the team fit was important, it went way deeper than just that.
“He's also a really good player, too,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who had Smart on the U19 squads and was on hand in Vegas. “He probably would have been a top-five player taken in the NBA Draft.
“People at USA Basketball watching him play at Colorado Springs last year and this year, seeing the kid win two gold medals and being one of the leaders on our team, he's earned the opportunity to be out here with these guys.”
Boeheim said he'd expect Smart to continue earning looks from Team USA to play on even bigger stages.
While the 2016 Summer Olympics might be a stretch, 2020 may not be. And there are world championships and other events to fill the years in between.
“We've got all young guys here, and I think all of them are capable,” Boeheim said. “And it's a real long period, not just two years, it could be in four or six or eight years down the road. All these guys are going to be around at some point in time, it's just that nobody knows when.
“Marcus has fit into all our teams. He knows the important thing is to win the game. And he wins games. That's what he does. He's a great, great kid to have on your team. You'd like to have him on your team no matter where you were.”