Steve Luhm: Get Smart? NBA teams ponder the possibility
Marcus Smart, coming soon to the home of an NBA lottery team, got off the roller-coaster Friday night in San Diego.
Smart's up-and-down college career almost certainly ended when Gonzaga defeated Oklahoma State 85-77 in the Cowboys' opening NCAA Tournament game.
If Smart declares for the upcoming NBA Draft, as expected, he waved good-bye to poverty with a flourish.
In defeat, Smart finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals.
The only thing he didn't do, it seemed, was run into the crowd and introduce himself to Hall of Famer John Stockton, whose son plays for Gonzaga and attended the game at Viejas Arena.
Smart could already be in the NBA, of course.
He was projected as a top-three pick last year but, surprisingly, decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season.
"I never regretted coming back," he says. "It was my decision and it's what I really wanted. I'm very happy with the decision I made. This team has made my decision to come back worthwhile.
"This is a group of guys I have a bond with that will never be broken. These guys are the best â¦ as teammates and friends. I can depend on these guys for whatever I need."
In February, Smart's teammates were forced to play three games without him. After shoving a fan in the final seconds of an Oklahoma State game at Texas Tech, he was suspended by the Big 12.
The Cowboys went 0-3 without Smart.
Beyond jeopardizing OSU's tournament hopes, the incident raised questions among NBA personnel-types.
Should teams burn a high pick in a talent-rich draft on a player who melted down in a pressurized situation, whether he was baited into it or not?
"I was hurting for him because I know who he is," said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. "â¦ I knew he was going to be portrayed one way and he isn't like that. He just made a mistake and I felt bad for him."
Rather than being set back by the situation, however, Smart and his teammates responded positively to it.
He averaged 18 points a game, capped by his magnificent performance against Gonzaga, and Oklahoma State won five its of final seven games to get to the tournament.
"Everybody has a right to their own opinion," Smart said. "But as long as I know who were are as a team and an individual our character it doesn't matter what other people think."
Today, Smart appears to be a top-six pick in the draft, partly because of how he played late in the season and reacted to the incident at Texas Tech.
"He's handled it well," Ford said. "Obviously there was a circumstance that he learned from something I wish hadn't happened. But in the long run two years from now, five years from now it might help him deal with things that come his way."
One thing is certain.
Ford is glad Smart returned for another college season before embarking on a career in a city like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando or Salt Lake.
"I think everybody respected he came back," Ford said. " Everybody here respects and loves what he stands for."
Special Delivery • New Orleans coach Monty Williams told Pelicans.com recently he wants his young star, Anthony Davis, to visit with Hall of Famer Karl Malone "about the mental aspects of being a big-time player." Williams has approached the former Jazz power forward about the idea and he is receptive to it. "We'll try to hook that up at some point," Williams said. "I think the biggest thing about [Malone] talking to A.D. is being that kind of player, the pressures that go with it and how you balance all of that."
This is the place • Philadelphia coach Brett Brown is a big fan of ex-Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and EnergySolutions Arena: "It's one of the great venues in the league. You're right on top of the court. You're right on top of everybody. The set-up is fantastic and the history of what coach Sloan left is my most vivid memory. It was very fundamental, very organized, very physical, and there was a discipline here that you respected from a distance. I think the fans appreciate that. They come and bring a strong voice and respect for the program that coach Sloan built."
Gator Bait • Florida's Billy Donovan nearly became coach of the Orlando Magic in 2007. During an NCAA Tournament news conference this week, Donovan hinted going to the NBA might still happen. "I got into coaching because of the basketball piece of it," he said, "and there is an intrigue as it relates to [the NBA]. When you try to project where your future is where you're going to be you don't know because I don't have a crystal ball. â¦ [But] the NBA is basketball 24 hours a day. That's all you're dealing with just basketball." Utah drafted Donovan in the third round of the 1987 draft. He was cut just before the start of the season.