- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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This offseason, Marcus Smart has made two big decisions. One of them was shocking. The other was not, at least not in the same way.
The first, of course, came when the national freshman of the year decided to turn down a guaranteed spot in the top five of the NBA draft lottery (Smart probably would have gone at No. 2 to Orlando) to return to Oklahoma State. That blew everyone's hair back for pretty obvious reasons; it's simply not that often a player of Smart's caliber decides to come back to college for an extra season -- especially when that means being selected very high in one of the worst drafts in recent memory or submitting to the gauntlet that will be the 2014 NBA draft.
But as Travis Ford and just about any Team USA coach will tell you, Smart isn't your average 19-year-old basketball star. Which is probably why we shouldn't have been so surprised in the first place -- and why Tuesday night's news, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, sounds par for the course:
Smart told Yahoo! Sports that, barring injury, he will enter and stay in the 2014 NBA draft following his sophomore season. He was projected to be a candidate for the No. 1 pick in last month's draft, but decided to stay in school.
"It's safe to say that if, by the grace of God I'm healthy and everything, this will be my last year at Oklahoma State," Smart said after USA Basketball's mini-camp practice Tuesday at UNLV. "Nothing will change my mind on that. [Oklahoma State] understands. They didn't figure I was coming back this year. They were just as surprised as everyone else."
The second decision in this equation is not the one to leave after next year. I suppose that's big, but if you weren't already expecting that, you're probably stretching the limits of credulity. Plus, as Smart implies, there are a lot of things that can happen in a year, a lot that can go wrong or right, and it's never a done deal until the paperwork is filed.
No, the second decision is the one Smart made when he chose to be open about the obvious. In a world (in a world) where NBA draft decisions are always held up to the highest suspense, when players swear they're coming back to school a few weeks before they declare for the draft, where even low-impact recruits treat their signing announcements like Marvel Studios at Comic-Con, it almost seems like players think they have to be 100 percent quiet until they make their call. They seem to think fans would get angry at them for stating the obvious ahead of time, or that media members will accuse them of not having the right "priorities," or whatever. It's intimidating out here, and you can understand the reticence. Merely acknowledging reality can feel radical.
Smart has earned enough cachet to not have to worry about criticisms like that. Other players would do well to take notice -- if you work hard and play hard and make your team better, not only will the NBA see it and adjust its impression of you accordingly, but not a soul on the planet can begrudge you your NBA dreams or your goofy news conference at your high school or anything else. When you prove yourself, you don't have to be coy.