STILLWATER — Marcus Smart’s successor as Oklahoma State’s starting point guard might be a speedy shooter who has been suspended multiple times and dismissed from a team.
And no, his name isn’t Stevie Clark — he’ll spend 2014 at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa.
Meet Anthony Hickey, a three-year starter at LSU who is eligible immediately in Stillwater thanks to the NCAA’s “run-off” waiver.
Hickey brings OSU experience, athleticism, shooting ability and sneaky hands that allowed him to lead the SEC in steals as a sophomore.
But he brings some baggage, too.
Hickey was suspended for an exhibition game and pulled from the starting lineup on multiple occasions his sophomore season under LSU coach Johnny Jones.
In December 2012, Hickey served a multi-game suspension for an academic issue. Jones later openly questioned whether Hickey could ever become a leader.
In May, LSU announced Hickey would not return for his senior season.
Hickey’s father, Anthony Hickey Sr., said the problems revolved around missing class and showing up late to workouts. Program insiders said the same.
Read between the lines in Jones’ comments to the media after Hickey’s December 2012 suspension, and it’s apparent Hickey struggled with taking care of business.
“Anthony has a lot of improvement to do and a lot of (room for) growth, and we have to continue to try and help him develop — not just on the floor, but off the floor as well,” Jones said. “For him to be able to help us on a consistent basis, you can’t be one-dimensional. You can’t just be about basketball. He’s going to have to at some point grow up, and it’s up to us to help him.”
But Hickey Sr. said the problems start and end there.
Jones wasn’t exactly kicking off an unbearable cancer. Instead, Jones recruited depth at point guard and found a way to peacefully part with Hickey.
The NCAA created the exemption two years ago for players who claimed they were run off from a program. For a player to transfer without sitting out a season, the previous institution must verify the player would not have been able to return, is in good academic standing and must provide a written statement supporting the waiver request.
“There’s no negative,” Hickey Sr. said. “Did he miss a couple of classes? Maybe. Was he late for some things? Yeah. He paid the price for things that he did wrong. The best thing about his situation is he’s not leaving on a negative note. Coach Jones just said he wanted to go in a different direction. He said he would rather have him seek somewhere else than risk him missing class and having to kick him off the team.”
That worked our perfectly for OSU coach Travis Ford, who wanted another guard and happened to have an ace up his sleeve with Hickey.
Ford grew up 20 minutes away from Hickey Sr.’s hometown. They played against each other in high school, and Hickey Sr. helped Ford’s father coach AAU in Kentucky. Ford also briefly recruited Hickey out of high school, and Hickey was teammates with OSU forward Le’Bryan Nash in the 2011 Derby Classic Showcase.
After talking at length with Hickey and the LSU coaching staff, Ford decided to roll the dice — though he won’t describe it that way.
“We understand some of the things that caused him issues in the past as far as being late and doing some things,” Ford told The Oklahoman on Wednesday. “We talked to him about that extensively. It’s important that he learn from the past and important that he take advantage of this opportunity, and he seems very eager to do that.”
Hickey Sr. called it a rare case of “transferring up.” Hickey can play for a guard’s coach, a program that gets national attention and in a conference that sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament last season.
The Cowboys get a player who averaged 8.4 points, 3.7 assists and 1.8 steals while leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. Ford said he’s not yet certain of Hickey’s exact role and might consider playing the 5-foot-11 Hickey at either guard spot.
But he is certain this is the piece he wanted.
“We love that he’s proven,” Ford said. “He’s an experienced player at the highest level. He’s going to understand what the competition is like in the Big 12.”
And the off the court isn’t all bad.
Hickey has a reputation for his kind heart. He developed a friendship with a 9-year-old with Cerebral Palsy in Baton Rouge.
Now Hickey has to make sure the good permanently overcomes the bad.
If he does, Ford could see a big return on a seemingly risky investment.
“This could be the key to everybody’s puzzle,” Hickey Sr. said. “This time next year, I hope this is a wonderful story for everybody.”