- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The reaction has been mostly predictable. When news broke last Tuesday that Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, a likely top-five pick in the 2013 draft, would instead return for his sophomore season of college hoops, the usual gamut was run: surprise, excitement, analysis of the Cowboys' chances next season, analysis of the depleted 2013 draft, and so on.
But there was also something else, something I didn't totally expect: a healthy dollop of paternalism.
Hey, just what does Marcus Smart think he's doing? Isn't this a really dumb decision? He's turning down guaranteed millions! He could get hurt! Critics could pick him apart! His draft stock could drop! Isn't anyone giving him advice?
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference in the Oklahoma Student Union, the second-team All-American and national freshman of the year made the announcement official. Then he addressed some version of the many questions people have, this time about NBA riches. His response?
"I'm aware how much money I am giving up," he said, laughing. "I'm aware of that. A 19 year old kid with that much money?"
This is an exaggeration, but it's not that much of an exaggeration, because the way people talked about Smart the past 15 hours, it was like nobody told him they pay well in the NBA. Or that the rookie wage scale won't be quite as lucrative in coming seasons. Or that very recent stars like Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones hurt their eventual draft position by returning to school. Or that next year's draft is loaded. Or that even waiting and adding a year to your clock at all can be damaging when NBA GMs start weighing your tiniest traits against dozens of others.
These things might all be true, but that's not even the point. The point is that you are not Marcus Smart's agent. You are not his financial planner. You are not his cousin or his brother or his coach or his teammate. You are just a random person who doesn't know the kid, trying to understand why he did something that most people probably wouldn't do. Don't assume he has less information. Odds are, after spending a couple weeks in the car wash that is the NBA draft decision timetable, Smart knows more.
This is not an argument against leaving early for the NBA draft; it's not an indirect indictment against other players who make the opposite decision despite less favorable circumstances. I would take the money. I would give a lot of it to my mom. That would be my decision, I'm sure.
But college is really great, too, and as a 27-year-old, let me tell you there's something about the experience at a big state university you can't buy or recreate the rest of your life. There is also being competitive and wanting to win a Big 12 or national title. Or wanting to spend more time with teammates and friends. Or any number of other reasons Smart could have weighed. Maybe he just discovered the best sandwich in Stillwater and felt like he'd wasted a year of his life not eating it. I've delayed relocation for less.
Point is, it doesn't matter! It's his life, his career, his sandwich, his decision. Smart's a good college player coming back for another season, and he's not doing so because he can't possibly fathom how much money he's leaving on the table. There's no need to worry. In a year or two or three, Smart's accountant can handle that. In the meantime: enjoy.