One of the nation’s best teams, and perhaps college basketball’s single-best player in Marcus Smart, head into Morgantown Saturday for a conference showdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Smart, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, is undoubtedly a rare and unique talent, even in today’s talent-laden landscape of college hoops. At 6-foot-4, 220 lbs., Smart is not only one of the most skilled players in all of Division I basketball, he’s also one of the most versatile. In Oklahoma State’s last game, Smart scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, ripped six steals, dished five assists and even swatted a shot.
“I thought Marcus played like Marcus Smart tonight,” said Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford. “He played a pretty good basketball game, as far as his effort and leadership. He did some really good things.”
That’s how high Smart has set the bar for himself during the last year and a quarter of college basketball; 24-11-6-5 is a pretty good basketball game in the eyes of his head coach.
But Smart isn’t just unique because of his ability to play every position on the floor and play them well. Smart is also considered a particularly rare breed because he forwent the chance to earn as much as $4.2 million this season in the NBA.
Instead, he returned to Stillwater for a sophomore season to work on his game and make a serious bid for a national title.
So far, both objectives seem to be more than reasonable.
Smart is shooting a higher percentage from the floor (46 percent up from 40) and from 3-point range (32 percent from 29), which has the sophomore averaging nearly two more points per game compared to the 2012-13 season, despite playing alongside four other double-digit scorers.
And as a team, Oklahoma State indeed has its eyes firmly locked on dethroning Kansas as Big 12 champs and perhaps making a deep run in March.
As for Smart, ESPN NBA Insider Jeff Goodman said although there’s a chance Smart could be taken first overall, it’s probably more of an outside chance with the litany of ultra-hyped freshmen who will likely be one-and-dones after this season.
But regardless of where Smart would be taken, it’s widely believed it will be the talented Texas native’s last year at the college level.
NBA superstar Kevin Durant, who watched Smart drop a cool 39 points on a then-No.22 Memphis in person, is one of those believers.
“Marcus can play in the league right now. Definitely,” Durant said to USA Today Sports after the late November game in Stillwater. “He was just unbelievable for them tonight. He was doing it all for them, rebounding, blocking shots, passing, scoring. He led them.
“I knew he could do everything pretty well. But I like his demeanor. I like how he handles his teammates. A player like him, he always can burst out and get 30 or 40 points. He is poised, and the extra year will help him out as far as knowing the game more.”
That is certainly high praise from one of the best players in the world.
Even West Virginia’s own Bob Huggins said Smart is a “special” player in a tweet sent out late Wednesday night.
The Mountaineers have historically done a decent job of containing the sophomore. However, Smart had totals of just 13 and 14 points in last year’s two conference matchups. It should be noted Smart’s fellow Cowboys also picked him up in both contests, as Oklahoma State finished 2-0 with both of the OSU wins coming by a 14-point margin against West Virginia in 2013.