STILLWATER — This isn't the same season Marcus Smart signed up for in his return to Oklahoma State.
Nor is it the same Marcus Smart that Cowboys fans — and really the nation — grew to admire and adore throughout a sensational freshman year that saw him reignite OSU's basketball program, earning honors and attention that only expanded into great expectations for him and his team.
Expectations that are fast fading, even as the star player returns from a three-game suspension Saturday at home against Texas Tech.
This Marcus Smart is so … conflicted.
And in turn, it's creating conflict in how he is viewed, both far and near, with journalists and bloggers and analysts and fans all sounding off about him.
And at him.
Oh yeah, there's that. And Jeff Orr, the man Smart shoved after taking a verbal blow in Lubbock, is but a piece of the targeting Smart — and other athletes — endure, with taunts and even attacks taking place regularly in enemy arenas, but also via Twitter, the latest place athletes go for fun, only too often finding hostility and venom instead.
So as this season has veered off course for the Cowboys, mounting pressure and frustration on Smart, might he have felt pushed, before his own now-infamous push?
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, on record as being a “social media basher,” won't rule it out.
“I think the buildup, if you read anything into this, it talked about how he was getting killed on Twitter,” Izzo said of Smart, “that pressure got to him. 'Cause that kid's a helluva kid, I know him a little bit myself. Uncharacteristic of him.”
Izzo said it's impossible to shield players from the pitfalls of Twitter.
“You never get away from it,” he said. “You go there and you get chewed on and that's normal. And you can take that and you get on the bus and you get chewed on by their fans or your fans.
“Telling a kid not to read it, is telling a kid not to breathe.”
More and more coaches are teeing off about Twitter these days. Izzo. Rick Pitino and Pitino's son, Richard, the coach at Minnesota.
“Every hour, it's like taking a little bit of poison,” the elder Pitino said this week, having banned his Louisville players from tweeting. “It poisons their minds.”
Smart took to Twitter Monday night, breaking his own recent silence on the social media site, calling out OSU blogger Kyle Porter (PistolsFiringBlog.com) for his negative remarks on the basketball team, which was on its way to losing its seventh straight game.
So Smart is tuned in to what's being said/tweeted.
And so are other Cowboys — and athletes everywhere — as OSU basketball coach Travis Ford can attest.
“It's changed our game,” Ford said. “It's changed coaching to an extent, as far as how you deal with players and what you have to deal with. We've had to deal with it, with different circumstances, with what has been said about certain players and different things like that, which have really hurt them.