STILLWATER — Ever since Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash sent the Student Union into a frenzy last March, the theme surrounding Oklahoma State basketball has been clear.
The boys are back.
And yet, there's no reason to stop with just the Big Three.
Even more boys are back, which is another reason the Cowboys stand as the preseason Big 12 co-favorite, a popular pick for national top-10 status and a potential Final Four contender.
So, yes, while Smart, Brown and Nash are major pieces to all OSU hopes and strives to be, the complementary pieces shouldn't be underappreciated or undervalued.
Like Michael Cobbins, another returning starter and a Big 12 All-Defensive Team selection last season, when he produced 12 multiple-block games and averaged 6.1 rebounds.
Like Phil Forte, who set a freshman school record with 68 3-pointers, all off the bench, and scored in double figures 17 times.
Like Kamari Murphy, who provided key minutes in the post as a freshman and is slated for a significantly larger role this year with the loss of Philip Jurick.
Like Brian Williams, back and healthy after a serious preseason wrist injury robbed him of much of last season, when he had won a starting job.
“We get all the credit for a lot of things that go on with this team,” Smart said, “but Phil, Kamari, Michael Cobbins, Brian and the freshmen coming on — they're the backbone of this team, too, coming to practice every day, getting us better — we wouldn't even be able to accept the credit that we get.
“Yes, we get the credit, but we let them know every day, ‘Thank you guys, because if it wasn't for y'all, we wouldn't be able to do what we're doing.'”
OSU's big three are deserving, as the top three returning scorers in the Big 12.
Smart, already the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, got the preseason vote to repeat in a polling of league coaches. He and Brown were also voted to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team, with Nash earning an honorable mention nod.
But Cobbins, also on the honorable mention list, came on over the second half of last season in what might prove to be his career breakout. Now up to 230 pounds, 50 pounds heavier than when he arrived at OSU, Cobbins should be more forceful in the post.
And the Cowboys need that, with Jurick no longer around.
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Cobbins said. “I feel prepared and ready to go.”
Williams said he's back to 100 percent, something he could never claim a year ago, when he missed the first 18 games and only played a limited role upon returning, with his right shooting wrist always wrapped.
“It was somewhere in the 60-70 percent (range),” Williams said. “It wasn't until after the season that I really started to get back healthy. I didn't have any time during the season, I just had to hop back in and do what I could.
“Now I'm back and ready to go.”
Forte and Murphy are back and ready to grow, even after providing valuable bench help as true freshmen.
And that's not all. Leyton Hammonds and Stevie Clark, the newest freshmen, are both positioned for significant roles, with 6-10 post man Gary Gaskins also on the verge of joining the rotation. Jeffrey Carroll, another freshman, and veteran 7-footer Marek Soucek are also bidding for playing time.
So while the Cowboys will lean on their star trio at times, they can look in other directions, too.
Overall, OSU returns more than 96 percent of its points, assists and steals from a team that went 24-9, finished one game behind co-conference champions Kansas and Kansas State and returned to the NCAA Tournament.
“We're returning a lot of players from last year's team,” Brown said. “We also have a lot of chemistry.
“We all made NCAA Tournament runs. We all have experience of playing in the tournament, playing in Big 12 play. And actually being a winning team. That says a lot about this team.”