Chatted recently with Billy Donovan and Jim Boeheim about their observations on Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. You can read my Tuesday story on just that here.
But that was all the news that fit. As is often the case, there were some good nuggets left over that didn’t make the story. Among them was Donovan’s concern on how returning to school and not jumping to the NBA – and more specifically the pressures that go with such a decision – might weigh on Smart in the coming season.
Donovan, who has coached Smart the past two summers on the Team USA U19 squad, went through a similar situation with Joakim Noah at Florida. After a breakout season as a sophomore on Florida’s 2006 national title team, Noah opted to return to the Gators for another run, drawing much scrutiny (as did Smart).
Beyond money matters, Donovan said, the most difficult thing for those who return is often dealing with unfair elevated expectations.
“When people see somebody who was supposed to be drafted in a certain spot,” Donovan said, “there’s an expectation immediately heightened going into his next year that this guy should get 25 points and grab 15 rebounds and average 10 assists a game. Because he’s a ‘top-five pick.’”
Of course, none of that represents what Smart is as a player, which is a competitor and a leader and a team-first guy. Can he score and rebound and dish? Absolutely. But “getting his” isn’t his focus. And on a team that also features Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash, Mike Cobbins, Brian Williams and others, Smart doesn’t have to be a 25-15-10 superstar.
“I think dealing with those expectations is something that Marcus is going to have to manage, because it’s not about that,” Donovan said. “It’s about him getting a little bit better each day, every practice and every game. Those are things that are a little different from a year ago.
“The same thing happened with Joakim Noah. Joakim Noah was a guy who was a lightning rod in 2006 and would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. He elected to come back and you know what, everybody weighed in on his decision.
“Did he make the right decision? Or the wrong decision? And if he was supposed to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA, he should be dominating college basketball. Well, it doesn’t work like that.”
Things worked out quite well for Noah, who led the march to back-to-back national championships, then went to the NBA, where he was named an All-Star this past season. And, oh yeah, he’s already made a bundle and is due to make $12.1, $13.15 and $14.2 million the next three seasons.
So delaying his pro career didn’t really dent the wallet.
Donovan, who raves about Smart, said he wishes a similar scenario for the Cowboys sophomore.
“I love Marcus,” Donovan said. “I love him as a kid. Obviously, I coached him and I’ve got a great relationship with Travis (Ford), I love him.
“I just want Marcus to be able to go into this season and have fun playing basketball and not have that taken away from him.”