“Marcus Smart is the only current college basketball player who could start in the NBA right now,” said ESPN analyst and former Duke point guard Jay Williams.
In another season at OSU, Smart could continue to work on his point skills, smoothing out any flaws and working on developing a more consistent shot, with a confidence that may not come so easily against NBA defenders.
And there's the fun aspect. Smart has developed strong relationships and chemistry with his teammates. He's also sharing these moments with his best friend, roommate and teammate since the third grade, fellow freshman Phil Forte.
And if he returns, the Cowboys would not only be the preseason Big 12 favorite, they'd be a legitimate Final Four contender. And Smart would be at or near the top of every Player of the Year watch list.
“Yeah, 99 percent would definitely go to the NBA,” Forte said. “But Marcus is a different kid. He doesn't get caught up in all that hype. He's just a winner. He wants to win.”
Will he be the difference in winning with the downtrodden Washington Wizards or the Charlotte Bobcats or Orlando Magic?
Smart said he didn't arrive in Stillwater with any thoughts of an early exit — OSU has never had a one-and-done player. Now such buzz is all around him, although he said he doesn't even peek at the mock draft projections that place him regularly in the top 10, if not No. 1, 2 or 3.
“I don't look at them, but I hear about it from friends and a couple of guys on the team,” Smart said.
Not that Smart is oblivious to it all. Scouts and NBA executives regularly attend Cowboys practices and games. And it's been that way since the preseason.
Smart said it all makes for a quite surreal existence.
“It's like a dream right now,” he said. “It's incredible to say that you even have the opportunity to have the chance to go to the NBA, to consider being a one-and-done. It's an amazing opportunity to have as an option.
“It wasn't on my mind when I got to Oklahoma State. And it's still not. It's not what's in my mind right now and it's not what I'm focused on.”
Cowboys coach Travis Ford said he and Smart haven't had any NBA discussions yet, with any such talk on the back burner until this season is complete. Then, Ford said, they'll sit down, address the pros and cons of staying and going, and let Smart make his call.
“It's exciting,” Ford said. “Either way, it's exciting. You don't get many opportunities to coach a young man like him. Just his approach and how nice of a young man he is. You only want what's best for him.”
Forte said OSU fans have reason to hold out hope for a return.
So does Ford.
“There's going to be decisions to be made,” Ford said. “But I can definitely tell you this, the decision has not been made at all. At all.
“It's not as easy as people think, either way. There's a lot of variables that will play a role in that decision. There's a lot of variables with him.”
And there's the fans and their love and their pleas, too.
“I've seen it,” Smart said. “I've heard it here and there. It's crazy, because I never in my life thought that I would be hearing that chant. It's a good feeling.
“At the same time, I don't focus on that. That's not my game. We still have a lot of basketball left to play, three regular season games, the Big 12 Tournament, the NCAA Tournament.
“But it's amazing to see that and hear the crowd and what they're saying.”
Where some NBA mock drafts have OSU's Marcus Smart going
ESPN.com — Between first and third, depending on which team wins the draft lottery, shuffled around with Kansas' Ben McLemore and Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Smart would go first overall if the Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Hornets or Toronto Raptors win the lottery, according to ESPN's Chad Ford.
SportingNews.com — Sixth to the Sacramento Kings, behind Indiana's Cody Zeller, McLemore, Georgetown's Otto Porter, Maryland's Alex Len and UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad.
HoopsWorld.com — Fifth to the Phoenix Suns, behind Muhammad, McLemore, Zeller and Noel.
DraftExpress.com — Sixth to the Sacramento Kings, behind Noel, McLemore, Muhammad, Zeller and Len.
HoopsHype.com — Second to the Orlando Magic, behind McLemore.