Putting together this paper, as any editor will attest, requires a night-long effort. In the sports section, we get through those especially long nights by watching any sporting event that happens to be on. One of the more memorable college basketball games I watched this season, between Oklahoma State and Memphis, was on while I was producing an issue of The Fordham Ram back in November.
Oklahoma State’s star point guard, Marcus Smart, scored a career-high 39 points in that game. He dominated Memphis from opening tip, scoring 24 of his team’s first 29 points and finished with 26 points in the first half alone. Oklahoma State won that game 101-80. Kevin Durant, who was in attendance, was particularly impressed.
“Marcus can play in the [NBA] right now. Definitely,” Durant told USA Today.
I remember being just as impressed as Durant. Smart was a commanding presence in that game and I was excited to see more of him.
It was certainly a vindicating performance from Smart. Smart opted not to enter the NBA Draft, where he almost certainly would have been a top five pick, and instead, chose to return to Stillwater, Okla. for his sophomore season. Hardly any star college player stays in school longer than a year now, and many people were questioning the wisdom of that decision. Smart, however, put on a show that silenced those people.
The only problem is, those critics are now back and louder than ever.
Late in the game this past Saturday between Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, Smart made a good hustle play, attempting to block the shot of the Aggies’ Jaye Crockett. Smart failed to stop Crockett, and his momentum carried him out of bounds and into the stands behind the basket. There a Texas Tech fan, identified later as Jeff Orr, yelled something at Smart, who retaliated by shoving the fan with both hands.
After the game, Smart reportedly accused the fan of using a racist slur, citing that as reason for his actions. Orr, in a statement, denied using a racial slur of any kind, claiming only to have called Smart a “piece of crap.”
It does not matter which account is true. Smart’s actions were wrong. No, it is not fair that Smart and other players get shouted at. But, players cannot put their hands on a fan for any reason whatsoever.
The fan might have used a racial slur. That would make Smart’s aggressive reaction slightly more understandable, but it does not come close to excusing his use of force.
NBA executives who have spoken to the media are divided over Smart’s future. Some have said it will hurt his draft stock, while others shrug off that idea entirely. I firmly believe this latest incident to be cause for worry.
A pattern of questionable behavior has started to emerge from Smart. He is undoubtedly the star of a very good Oklahoma State team, but he is not acting like a leader. He kicked a chair while struggling through a loss to West Virginia where he scored just four points. His level of frustration is becoming increasingly visible on the court, as OSU has lost five of its last six games.
Smart made a brave decision this past summer when he decided to return to school. He put off the chance to become a millionaire for another season. He won the Wayman Tisdale award for national freshman of the year and was a second team Associated Press All-American. He did not seem to have much to left to prove. Now, however, he could come to be remembered for kicking chairs and fighting with fans instead of his brilliant play.
What Smart did on Saturday was a monumental mistake, and it is only compounded by the fact that he is one of college basketball’s top players. I really enjoy watching Smart play. His athleticism and drive make the game fun and his team exciting. To be successful, however, he must change his behavior and silence his critics with his talent — not his temper.