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Smart Could Be What OSU Has Been Missing

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri -

The accolades and trophies hauled in by Oklahoma State incoming freshman Marcus Smart are enough to raise eyebrows and expectations for Cowboy basketball fans.

It's an impressive list: Back-to-back Texas 5A state championships, two-time Gatorade Texas player of the year, McDonald's All-American, finalist for national high school player of the year and preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year, in addition to honorable mention all-conference before setting foot in a game in Stillwater. He was also a key player for the Gold Medalist U-18 USA Men's National Team, a consensus five-star recruit and a member of the five-man ESPNHS All-American Elite team.

While all of those honors help to showcase how special Smart is, they still don't encapsulate what it is that truly sets him apart from the rest of the pack.

"I haven't seen too many players who make as many extra-effort plays as Marcus Smart," coach Travis Ford said at Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City. "I was telling our team the other day, everybody kind of does what I tell them to do. He goes above and beyond what I tell him to do. It's just very refreshing."

And the refreshing nature of Smart's high-motor and never-quit attitude has followed the Flower Mound, Texas, native wherever he's played. In fact, he was singled out by Florida coach Billy Donovan with Team USA for his incredible leadership abilities and knack for finding ways to get the job done and win games.

"I have not been around a player in a long, long time that is as good a competitor," Donovan said in an interview with ESPN.com. "He's special."

Those factors have long been absent from the Oklahoma State lineup. Ford has a collection of highly-recruited, athletic players but has been lacking an unquestioned leader to propel the Cowboys back into the NCAA Tournament and even potential Big 12 title territory.

Smart has been pegged as that level of player and the Cowboys will need him to be.

With Smart tag-teaming with former McDonald's All-American Le'Bryan Nash and high-flying guard Markel Brown, it gives the Pokes a backcourt that should be the envy of the league.

Smart is capable of playing a variety of positions but appears best suited to take the reins at point guard, creating mismatches with his strength and 6-foot-4 frame.

"Marcus is an extremely versatile player," Ford said. "Can he play four different positions on the court from the point guard position to the two, to the three, to the four; if you asked him to play the five, he would do that too. But an extremely unselfish basketball player.

"Marcus, probably more than any player I've ever coached, affects a practice, effects games more than any player I've seen. He's involved in every play in practice, whether it be a rebound, a loose ball, defensively making assists. He's involved in everything."

And speaking of being involved in everything, one factor with Smart that shouldn't go unmentioned is his penchant for raising the level of play of those around him, leading into a potentially massive benefit for Oklahoma State: a boost in production from Nash.

Nash, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, had his ups and downs as a freshman for the Cowboys last season. He averaged 13.3 points and five rebounds per game in a season that was labeled by most as a mild disappoint given his high school pedigree.

But Smart is reportedly a perfect complement to Nash's skill set, setting up a potentially dominant trio alongside Brown, who Ford said is likely stepping into Keiton Page's voided scoring role on the wing.

Asked about the potential successful combination of Nash and Smart, Ford glowed about the prospects.

"Absolutely, I think they complement each other very well, very well. In the fact that I think Le'Bryan complements Marcus very well, because Marcus is a great passer, and Le'Bryan is a great finisher, and he can finish from a lot of different areas on the court, from the 3-point line on in," Ford said. "Marcus, those two have developed a great bond on and off the court. They're fun to watch. Marcus complements LB, because LB sees the success that Marcus has and his team has only because of how hard Marcus plays, and that becomes contagious is to guys like Le'Bryan who last year was a little inconsistent and with his play. He worked a little bit. We don't have that problem right now. He's been terrific. He learned so many great lessons his first year in the Big 12.

"In that aspect, he's helped Marcus a lot too. He's helped Marcus a lot. I heard him talk about how competitive it is at this level. It is. It's interesting seeing those two on the court because they complement each other very well. A lot of people have commented to me that I bet Marcus really helps Le'Bryan, well, Le'Bryan helps Marcus as well. It's fun to watch those two."

And Cowboy fans should enjoy watching how it pans out and what type of impact Smart has on OSU as a freshman.

For all the awards and accolades Smart has accumulated over the past few years, Ford sums his potential superstar up in a simple, concise way that should mean the most to the orange-clad faithful.

"He's the ultimate winner," Ford said.

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