Leyton Hammonds, like a large majority of hoops fans in Oklahoma, was glued to his computer during the lunch hour of April 17.
He was on YouTube, streaming the live feed from OSU’s Student Union, eager to learn if Marcus Smart (and friends) would return for another season in Stillwater.
“He said he was going to come back and my whole family jumped out of their seats,” Hammonds remembers. “Everyone was so excited.”
For good reason. Hammonds, from Richland, Texas, is an incoming freshman, one of five newcomers set to join the Cowboy hoops program next year. And in most seasons, as a 6-foot-8 wing with ballhandling skills, Hammonds has enough talent to be considered for an immediate spot in the rotation.
Same with Jeff Carroll, a 6-foot-6 athlete (also from Texas and also heading to OSU), who dropped a game-high 26 points and five threes in Saturday’s Faith 7 All-Star game in Shawnee, which paired the best seniors from both Oklahoma and Texas against each other.
Neither will start next season. And there’s a chance neither finds a consistent spot in the rotation. But both seem to recognize the rare benefit that awaits them — a chance to sit, watch and learn from a group of veterans led by a guy who the Orlando Magic wish was playing point guard for them next season.
“We got guys in there that are pros, basically ready to be pros,” Hammonds said, right before he dropped 18 in that same Faith 7 All-Star game. “It shows us how hard we have to work to get to that level. We just want to push our game to the next level. I want to play like Marcus Smart, want to train like him. He’s like my mentor now. I look up to him as a teammate and as a friend.”
“Coming off the bench, pretty much doing whatever they say and fitting in where I can,” Carroll said of his expected role. “Just play my role as a freshman, learn the ropes from those guys.”
But perhaps nobody will benefit from Smart’s surprising decision more than highly-touted Douglass product Stevie Clark, a four-star combo guard who likely would have shouldered a hefty portion of the scoring load had OSU’s talented trio jumped to the professional ranks.
Instead, the sharpshooter with 28-foot range can settle in to an important, yet reduced, role as he adjusts to the college game.
And what better way to become acclimated with what awaits than facing Smart every day in practice, a 6-foot-4 bully with unmatched intensity. The kind of relentless competitor that’ll remind Clark, on a regular basis, that the days of 40-point laughers against overmatched 4A defenders are long behind him.
“It’s going to help him on the court a lot, but some of the stuff that Marcus brings off the court is going to help Stevie a lot as well,” Travis Ford said. “Stevie loves the game and is an extremely hard worker, loves the game as much as anybody, always in the gym. But Marcus is a great example for anybody on how to come to practice every single day and when I say every day, I mean every day.”
“It’s going to be great because it’ll make me a better basketball player and help me mentally,” Clark said. “It’s great to have these type of players, coming off the year they had putting Oklahoma State back on the map and then having them show us the way. Then hopefully we can keep it going after.”
Here’s some highlights of three aforementioned freshmen