Oklahoma State Cowboys star Marcus Smart has officially declared for the NBA draft in June, ending what little speculation there was that the sophomore would forego his remaining two years of eligibility to turn pro. The All-American guard’s 2013-14 campaign ended somewhat abruptly in the opening round of the NCAA tournament with an 85-77 Ok State loss to no. 9 seed Gonzaga, bringing to an end a season rife with turmoil.
Whether Smart’s decision to return this season was ultimately a good one is in doubt. His Cowboys’ early forays into the top ten of the national rankings were interrupted by upsets, a lengthy losing streak and suspension. However, in a statement to the press released by the university Tuesday, the twenty-year-old said he had a wonderful two years at Oklahoma State and would not trade them for anything.
Smart’s year began to much acclaim. A consensus All-America selection and preseason number 8 billing for Ok State gave the Cowboys enough steam to reach the number five slot before suffering their one and only nonconference loss to then no. 21 Memphis in the Old Spice Classic in November. The game was a rematch of a contest Oklahoma State dominated 101-80 less than two weeks earlier when the Tigers were ranked no. 11 and the Cowboys no. 5. This time, Smart was held to just 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting after going off for a season-high 39 points in their first meeting.
Ok State would take a strong 12-1 nonconference record into Big 12 play, but the wheels began to wobble soon after opening league play with an upset loss at Kansas State. After a respectable 4-2 start, the slide came and three consecutive losses gave way to frustration and peril when Smart shoved a fan during the Cowboys fourth straight loss to Texas Tech. He received a three-game suspension, but the real price was another three losses in a row and the skid would reach seven games before his return. For his part, Smart fueled his team’s desperate last gasp, leading Ok State to four straight wins and a no. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament when they were all but locked out of the postseason at 4-9 in the Big 12 just two weeks earlier.
While Smart may have passed up an opportunity to be among the top two or three picks in last year’s NBA draft, he believes he made the right choice and despite all the controversy may even be better prepared for a professional career than he was a year ago. According to NBA draft analysis, Smart is projected to go somewhere around the number six pick, a definite drop in stock from last season. But the reason his popularity took a hit this season has less to do with the erratic temperament he displayed in shoving a Texas Tech than his erratic jump shot, which is said to have seen little to no improvement from his freshman to sophomore year. Nearly half of Smart’s field goal attempts this season were from outside the arc and he connected on just 30 percent of them. On the plus side, he is big and strong enough to score at will in the paint as well as become a solid rebounder and defender, both things he excelled at in his college career.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat