The night before Oklahoma State was blistered at Baylor, Cowboys recruits Marcus Smart and Phil Forte were having a better time on the hardwood, leading their Flower Mound Marcus squad to a 49-35 win over Hebron.
It was another step on the path to defending their Texas Class 5A state title for the Marauders, ranked No. 1 in Texas and No. 15 nationally by USA Today.
Smart, a five-star prospect by Rivals.com, is a 6-foot-4 physical guard. Forte, a 5-10 three-star recruit as a combo guard, is a near-clone of Keiton Page, a comparison he welcomes.
I chatted with both after their win. Here's our conversation:
You guys seem like you have a real connection on the floor. Where does that come from?
Forte: We've known each other since third grade. Joking around, everybody calls us brothers. That's my brother. We've been through good times, bad times. When we step on the court, it kind of shows. We have that chemistry and we have that bond. We've known each other since we were little and I think it shows on the court.
Smart: We are brothers. Having that relationship and knowing each other for a long time, coming on the court there's a real chemistry there and we know where the other is at any given time, without actually seeing where he is. We have a feel that he's going to be there when we pass the ball. So far, it's worked for us.
For guys who are considered high school stars, you both play so unselfishly.
Smart: Coach (Danny Henderson) has always been telling us a quote: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” And that's true. With a great team, you can beat any given talent any day. That's what we try to come out here and do. We have a motto, “One Team, One Dream.” When we come out here together, we can beat anyone as a team.
Forte: We don't really care about the stats, how many points anyone scores. Whoever's hot that game, we try to get them the ball. We have several weapons on the team, which helps. We don't have to try and do everything, we have other players who can do other things. If everyone's clicking on the same day, we're much tougher than just us ourselves.
You guys are having another good season, how much do you fight the urge to hurry up and get to the playoffs?
Forte: That's what our goal has been, obviously, the prize at the end and winning a state championship. But we just want to enjoy the season. This is our senior year. This is the last time we'll play high school sports. We just want to take everything in and savor the moment, take every day one at a time and enjoy everything.
Smart: This is our last year. You only get to go through high school once, so we just want to have fun and do it right. But at the same time, there is a little urgency to get to the playoffs.
The decision to go to Oklahoma State, how did that go down and how important was it to continue playing together?
Smart: It was crazy. Me and Phil were both getting scholarship offers, different directions, same directions. But we decided at one point that we'd been playing together this long, why break it up, with the chemistry we have? We decided we wanted to keep playing together and decided to take our talents to Oklahoma State.
Forte: We just didn't want this to be our last year. It kind of hit home that, “Wow, this could be the last year we get to play together.” And we didn't want it to end. We wanted four more years of this, hopefully four more years of this — who knows with him — but we just wanted to play together. We felt Oklahoma State fit both of us well individually. And Coach (Travis) Ford and his coaching staff had a lot to offer and we feel like we can learn a lot from them.
At one point did you realize that you would go to the same school?
Forte: There was a point where we decided that we wanted to play together, so that narrowed some of the schools down. There was a handful left. And when we visited Stillwater we knew, “This is it.” We loved the atmosphere, the facilities, the coaches, the players. Everything was great. We just had that gut feeling that it was the place we wanted to spend the next four years of our lives.
Smart: A gut feeling is what it was. We talked about it, but we didn't put a lot of focus to it, until we got to Stillwater and we decided. It hit home. Coach Ford and the coaching staff had a lot to offer. The atmosphere was great. The student body was incredible. So we talked about it more and decided, “Why stop this process of playing four more years if we have the chance. Let's go ahead and finish our careers out together.” We made it happen at OSU.
It's a very young team right now at OSU. Do you look forward to joining those guys and building something?
Smart: They're pretty young. That's good, because we have a lot to build on and a lot to learn from Coach Ford and his staff. It'll be a great experience for us.
Forte: They've had their struggles this year, but that comes along with being a young basketball team. They have a lot of great players, it just takes time to develop. We just can't wait to get there and kind of learn from what they have to teach us. We have to go in like a sponge and just absorb everything, and bring to the team what we have to offer and try to make the team better.
Both of you seem to be quite versatile, able to play different positions. What do you see your roles being at OSU?
Forte: I can kind of relate myself to Keiton Page. Seeing him succeed in that system, being a three-year starter, playing a lot of minutes, that's one thing that helped me decide to go to Oklahoma State. Seeing a guy I can relate myself to, and seeing him play well and succeed, it's nice to know that. He can shoot the lights out, hopefully that's what I plan to bring to the table, too.
Smart: I can kind of relate to Le'Bryan Nash up there, a very versatile player. He can play any position on the court. Like Phil said, we have a lot to learn from them. We're going to go in there like sponges and try to learn as much as we can and help the team any way we can.