Monday, June 11, 2012
Cowboys excited about Marcus Smart
The text messages from the USA Basketball staff came back with one name: Marcus Smart.
He was the player who stood out the most on the U-18 roster, which leaves for Brazil on Wednesday for the FIBA Americas U18 Championships held in Sao Sebastiao de Paraiso from June 16-20.
Travis Ford says he expects Marcus Smart to contribute right away for Oklahoma State.
Smart's impact on the trials in Colorado Springs shouldn't come as surprise. Nor should comments that he was one of the most competitive players coming out of high school the staff has seen, a "flat-out stud, a winner and a warrior.''
The 6-foot-3 wing from Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas, might have the most impact of any newcomer in the Big 12 in 2012-13.
He is being described as a player who loves to play defense. A competitive, coachable talent who can drive the lane and make the right pass. His body type has been billed as a bigger version of Tim Hardaway Sr., with strong shoulders, arms and legs.
"There aren't many Marcus Smart's out there,'' said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. "He's extremely talented and cares about winning, not how many points he scores or needs to score. He's an incredible passer. I knew he'd be a hit for this team.''
The U-18 coaching staff, led by Florida's Billy Donovan and assisted by Gonzaga's Mark Few and VCU's Shaka Smart, will rely on Smart's talents to lead the 12-man roster.
So, too, will Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys also added Smart's teammate and friend Phil Forte, a 5-10 shooting guard, and 6-8 power forward Kamari Murphy out of Brooklyn.
The Cowboys lost Keiton Page, the team's top scorer and leader, but highly-touted Le'Bryan Nash returns to a team that finished 15-18 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.
If Nash (13.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) can play like he did at Iowa State on Jan. 18 (18 points) or against Missouri on Jan. 25 (27 points) and Smart delivers, the Cowboys should have one of the most talented set of wings in the Big 12.
And Oklahoma State will be a team that could be in the mix in what should be a wide-open Big 12 race.
Ford said Smart is going to be play at least 30 minutes per game. He said he's physically ready and mature to step in immediately. USA Basketball will be the right springboard for Smart heading into the season.
"He's the type of player you want on these all-star teams,'' Ford said. "He's the ultimate team guy. It's important for us because we're losing one of the best leaders I've ever coached in Keiton Page. [Marcus] is a freshman, but he'll be a leader.''
Ford said scouting Smart in high school was easy since he was the one who was always talking. His leadership, apparently, was infectious.
"Marcus has such a high motor,'' Ford said. "He is all about winning. His team won back-to-back 5A state championships. Phil Forte was the MVP, and nobody was happier for him than Marcus. He's a great teammate.''
Ford said Smart's ability to post up and block shots from his position makes him very versatile.
Ford understands that some may be cautious in celebrating another high-profile Oklahoma State freshman. Nash didn't exactly roar out of the gate last season.
But the Oklahoma State coach said Nash has been stellar so far in individual workouts.
"It's going to be fun to have those two guys on the same team,'' Ford said. "There's a learning curve, and we knew it would be there.''
The Cowboys will carry Smart's USA Basketball momentum into an August trip to Spain and then into a season where they have once again put together a topflight schedule. They'll play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic (NC State and Tennessee are the other headliners), host Gonzaga, South Florida and Missouri State, and visit rebuilding Virginia Tech.
Texas and Kansas will be the two Big 12 favorites next season. The rest of the spots are wide open, and Oklahoma State has as good a chance as any team to finish in the top four in the league.