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Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart a polarizing prospect ahead of NBA Draft
NBA » Oklahoma State guard calls face-off with fan “a lesson learned.”
First Published Jun 01 2014 05:25 pm • Last Updated Jun 02 2014 09:14 am

He knows the question is coming.

"Pretty much it came up in every interview," former Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart said last month as he met with teams in Chicago. "I’m sure it’s going to come up in every interview I have from here on out. … These teams are spending millions and millions of dollars on somebody. They want to know."

At a glance

Marcus Smart file

Combine measurements » 6’2” (without shoes), 227 pounds

College » Oklahoma State

2013-14 averages » 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists

Jazz auditions

The Utah Jazz will work out six players Monday:

Cameron Bairstow » forward, New Mexico

Billy Baron » guard, Canisius

James Bell » guard, Villanova

Aaron Craft » guard, Ohio State

LaQuinton Ross » forward, Ohio State

Roscoe Smith » forward, UNLV

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A year ago, the guard might have been the top pick in the NBA Draft. Instead he chose to wait, to brave a deeper draft class in favor of another year at school. But that sophomore season in Stillwater seemed to create more questions than answers about Smart’s abilities and attitude.

Barring a major surprise, Smart is unlikely to leapfrog Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker or Australia’s Dante Exum in the June draft, leaving him squarely in the next tier of talent. So Smart is doing his best to try to answer those lingering questions for teams at the top of the draft, including the Utah Jazz, who own the No. 5 pick.

One thing that can’t be questioned is Smart’s size.

At last month’s combine, Smart measured at 6-foot-2 without shoes and weighed in at 227 pounds, making him one of the most physically ready NBA prospects. He followed that up by putting up faster test numbers than speedy All-Star point guards Chris Paul and John Wall.

He’s also a tenacious defender, who could provide a much needed toughness to a Jazz team that ranked last in stopping opponents last season.

But Smart, who met with Jazz officials in Chicago, still has plenty to prove.

Some question whether he’s a good enough playmaker to run the point at the NBA level. He hit less than 30 percent of his 3-pointers during his two seasons at Oklahoma State. And, after starting out his sophomore campaign with blistering performances (39 points against Memphis, 25 at South Florida, 30 against Purdue), Smart seemed to taper off, causing concerns about his consistency.

Then, of course, there were the other things.

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Struggling from the field against West Virginia in January (he finished 1-for-7 for the game) cameras caught Smart kicking over a chair on the sideline.

Then, in February during a game against Texas A&M, there was the incident about which Smart knows he’ll forever be asked.

Smart said the fan, prominent booster Jeff Orr, used a racial slur.

Orr has denied it.

Smart lost his temper and pushed the man, earning a multiple game suspension.

In the wake, Jazz point guard John Lucas III, an Oklahoma State alum, reached out to Smart. So did former Weber State star Damian Lillard.

"He just told me to keep my head up, things like that," Smart said of Lucas III. "I had a lot of support behind me."

Still, Smart watched from afar as the Cowboys lost their fifth, sixth and seventh games in a row, their hopes of making an NCAA tournament seemingly slipping away.

"It was a lesson learned," Smart said.

In his first game back from suspension, Smart again matched up against the Aggies. This time, he scored 16 points and handed out 10 assists in a win that helped get Oklahoma State back on track for a tourney berth.

That’s the player Smart said the team that drafts him will get.

"They’re going to get an unbelievable competitor," he said. "You’ll never question how tough I’m going to play. You’re going to get a leader and you’re going to get somebody who can make plays and do whatever it takes to make the team better."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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