LAWRENCE, Kan. — Marcus Smart nearly went to Kansas.
And he's outwardly voiced his respect and admiration for Bill Self.
Still, none of that will help endear Smart to the throng Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, where some 16,300 Jayhawk devotees will be amped and ready, both for a showdown of Big 12 and national contenders, and also to rail on Smart, who in the span of 12 months has become Public Enemy No. 1 in Lawrence.
“They'll probably be booing us at the hotel room,” said Cowboys guard Brian Williams. “It's going to be awful, man.
“But he'll be ready.”
Tip time is 3 p.m., with a CBS national broadcast set to deliver the first of two regular season meetings between the No. 9 Cowboys and No. 15 Jayhawks, the preseason co-favorites in the Big 12.
And it could get testy.
Remember Smart's back flip that stamped a final statement on Oklahoma State's stunning upset of the No. 2 Jayhawks last February in Allen Fieldhouse?
Recall his scoffing remarks aimed at the supposedly too-soon adoration of prized KU recruit Andrew Wiggins in the preseason?
Jayhawks fans do.
Finally, those two will meet — the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and perhaps his chief competition, the preseason Freshman of the Year in the conference — as talk time is officially over.
Yet it won't merely be one-on-one for Smart.
It'll be Smart against The Phog, packed to the rafters with all those KU fanatics, who figure to let him have it at every opportunity.
“You just keep playing,” Smart said. “Most of the time, for the most part, I just get into a zone where I block it out and I can barely hear it. You can't focus on that. You let it go. It's going to happen. There's nothing you can do, you can't control it.”
Smart's status as a national figure, along with his hard-charging play, has put him in the crosshairs of opposing fans already this season. They hurled chants at him when the Cowboys played at Kansas State. They booed him regularly at West Virginia.
“Everywhere we go,” Williams said. “I feel like these crowds have meetings on how they're going to mess with Marcus.
“He's handling it real well. You can tell by the stat lines he's having.”
Not that KU fans were ever going to forget Smart's back flip, which used the Jayhawk logo as a launching pad, although publicly Self is downplaying it.
“What bothered me is the fact that we played like crap,” Self said, “more so than somebody else doing a back flip. If we would have played better, then that wouldn't have happened. Things like that don't bother me.”
But Smart provided more spice to this season's meetings early in the fall, when he questioned all the hype surrounding Wiggins, the nation's top recruit who had already been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Smart wasn't taking a shot at Wiggins, as much as the attention. Still, it received a lot of play.
“They are saying he is the best college player there is” Smart told USA Today at the time, “and he has not even played a game yet. Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential.
“I am not saying he can't do it. But he has not done it yet.”
Wiggins hasn't dominated the college game, but he's been very good. And he was superb in KU's latest win, a 77-70 win at Iowa State on Monday, when he struck for 17 points and 19 rebounds. Wiggins is averaging a team-best 15.8 points per game.
“Oh, he's doing good things as a freshman at Kansas,” Smart said this week. “He's playing very well. He's really bringing their team along.”
Of course, this clash extends beyond Smart and Wiggins.
Markel Brown ignited OSU's upset hopes a year ago, firing in seven 3-pointers and finishing with a game-high 28 points. And he's finding his shooting rhythm again. Le'Bryan Nash, Kamari Murphy, Williams and Phil Forte are all capable of impacting the game.
Kansas boasts a deep and talented roster, featuring three freshmen — Wiggins, 7-foot center Joel Embiid and guard Wayne Selden — who are all projected as lottery picks in this summer's NBA Draft.
Ultimately, however, the focus will almost surely find Smart, who is OSU's rudder. He's made that clear again lately, impacting the game in so many ways. In four conference games, he's averaging 20.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and has nine steals and three blocked shots.
“Before these last three conference games, coach pulled me in and said, ‘You're not playing the way we know you can play on both ends,'” Smart said. “And it kind of got to me. I went in and watched a lot of film, watched myself. And I could tell.
“He told me, ‘Just get back to playing when you were having fun.' Once I did that, I just let my game come to me and it's been working so far.”
It'll take more of that this time.
And Smart says he's ready.
Ready for such a game.
Ready, too, for his Allen Fieldhouse reception.
“Kansas is a tough place to play,” he said. “It's a great opportunity for us to go back there and play a great team at a great place in a great environment. Everybody knows and understands how good Kansas is as a team.
“It's going to be fun.”