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Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (33)beats the Gonzaga defense down the floor for a basket during the first half in a second-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament Friday, March 21, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Steve Luhm: Get Smart? NBA teams ponder the possibility

By Steve Luhm

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Mar 22 2014 11:41 am • Last Updated Mar 22 2014 11:21 pm

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.

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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 … 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.


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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. "… 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.

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