It’s sad, really.
This Marcus Smart who will probably be suspended soon. This frustrated sophomore who pushed a Texas Tech fan toward the end of a 65-61 loss to the Red Raiders on Saturday. This 19-year-old individual with a temper that’s complicating his season and his life. This poor teammate.
Even after the game had ended, Smart wouldn’t leave the floor. Team officials had to drag him back to the locker room as he pleaded his case. It was a bizarre, unfortunate moment in Smart’s career.
I don’t know the player I’ve watched in recent weeks.
We were in Kansas City at Big 12 media day in October. We were in a room talking about the trials he’d overcome -- the death of a brother, a mother in need of a new kidney, a tough neighborhood -- and what this opportunity had meant to him.
Smart told me that he didn’t come back simply to achieve his personal goals. It was bigger than that. He thought he’d betrayed Oklahoma State fans when he failed to lead the Pokes past the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. He couldn’t get over that sour taste, he said. And even though he had the chance to be a top-five draft pick last summer, he didn’t want to be one of those one-contract guys in the NBA. He didn’t want to disappear after three years in the league. The only way to ensure that he’d last would be to come back and grow. Get better. Improve.
Saturday night didn’t help his cause.
Now, Oklahoma State might have to march on without him. Now, folks will call Smart a hothead, a label that sometimes sticks for a lifetime. Now what?
It’s too early to know exactly what happened with Smart and that fan. We only know Smart’s reaction.
Smart shoved a fan. And that can’t happen.
It’s not fair. Life isn’t. But men and women in that spotlight, especially in the social media age, are subjected to levels of disrespect and hatred that few can understand. A refusal to respond does not constitute cowardice. It proves maturity.
And Smart had that chance. He had the chance to prove that a teenager was more of a man than some Texas Tech fan who might have aggravated him.
Instead, Smart placated his haters who’d already harassed him for the way he’s attempted to draw fouls this season. See: flopping.
Smart kicked a chair during a recent win over West Virginia. Since that incident, Smart’s negative demeanor has been one of the headlines for a troubled program.
He’s moped on the sideline. He’s been childish. He’s walked off the floor.
What initially seemed like a bad stretch for a good kid was actually the precursor to Saturday’s meltdown and another bad night for a program that can’t seem to do right.
Michael Cobbins suffered a season-ending foot injury at the end of 2013. Stevie Clark got kicked off the team earlier this week. Smart is struggling. And Oklahoma State has lost five of its past six games.
The last thing that Travis Ford needs is a period without Smart. But that’s exactly what Oklahoma State faces now.
There will be conversations about this incident’s impact on Smart’s draft stock. There will be conversations about his character. There will be conversations about his temperament. That’s unfortunate but warranted.
His aspirations are too grand to be marred by his response to the words and/or actions of some formerly unknown college basketball fan in Lubbock, Texas. His potential is too high to be jeopardized by this nonsense.
But it’s his new reality.
Yes, Oklahoma State is losing and Smart didn’t return for this. This is not what he expected. It’s not what anyone expected.
And he’s mad about it.
But his emotions don’t excuse Saturday’s reaction.
You don’t know what that fan said, though.
This season means too much to him and his future.
Smart’s decision to return for his sophomore season was a calculated move by a young man who wanted to do something for his program. He wanted to be a hero, while elevating his draft stock and prepping for a lengthy pro career. He wanted to put himself in a better position to be financially equipped to support the mother who sacrificed all for him. He wanted to help his teammates, his brothers, succeed.
That’s what he told me.
But everything he’s done in recent weeks, leading up to and including Saturday’s incident with that Texas Tech fan, has been selfish and foolish.
He’s better than that. That’s not him.
That’s someone else.
The guy who everyone saw on Saturday night at the end of that Texas Tech loss, however, is the only Marcus Smart they’ll ever know because bad reputations are hard, sometimes impossible, to rectify.
Even when they’re based on one incident.
And that’s sad.