Get Smart: Why OSU's Star Freshman Is Worthy Of The Acclaim
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - Awards are nothing new to Marcus Smart but he earned a distinction on Sunday that put the dynamic Oklahoma State point guard into a different realm entirely.
He was named the Big 12 Conference Rookie of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year by the league on Sunday night. Winning either puts a player in an elite category, but winning both, well, that just doesn't happen.
In fact, prior to Sunday, it had only happened twice in the history of the league. The winners: Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley.
Those names carry some serious clout. Long-term fans of the league remember just how dominant Durant and Beasley were but here's a quick look at their numbers for comparison's sake.
In 2006-07, Kevin Durant stormed through the league averaging 25.8 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals a game. The following year Beasley posted 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per outing in a dominating campaign for Kansas State.
Smart's numbers this season: 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and three steals. He's the only player in the conference to rank in the top 15 in each category.
While those statistics don't jump off the page like the others, a lot of what Smart brings to the table is unquantifiable. And it is more than enough to warrant how deserving he is of the company he now keeps.
Most importantly, Smart has changed the culture of Oklahoma State basketball.
The Cowboys had been trending downward the past few seasons, lowlighted by last season's abysmal 15-18 campaign where OSU was frequently uncompetitive in games. Last year's finish was the worst since the pre-Eddie Sutton days in Payne County, marking the first losing season since 1987-88.
A few players walked away from the team in the middle of the season; others disappointed. Fans stopped showing up. The prominent talking point on message boards had long since turned from ‘How deep can the Pokes go in the Dance?' to ‘How does Travis Ford still have a job?'
Even students who purchased season tickets couldn't be bothered to go pick them up.
But even then there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
That glimmer was the potential of Marcus Smart, who was lighting up his competition on a nightly basis en route to his second consecutive 5A state title at Flower Mound Marcus High School in the Dallas suburbs. Fans didn't give up entirely because of the promise of a potential savior.
The expectations couldn't have been higher – or more unrealistic – but he has more than lived up to them.
Smart helped transform a group of teammates who were long on potential and short on production into a core unit that displays teamwork and communication not seen since the glory years in the mid-2000s.
He changed the tone of practice, he altered the mindset of the locker room and once he took the floor he proved he was more than just talk.
He gave the Cowboys a lock-down defender, a heady decision maker, and the consummate spark plug who seemed to be able to will the team to victory through pure effort.
3/9/13 Related Story: Cowboys Wrangle No. 9 Wildcats
And after he earned the trust of his teammates and coaches, he breathed life back into an increasingly disinterested fan base. What was once ‘The Rowdiest Arena in the Country' is now rocking once again.
Smart is always fueled by emotion but he is never out of control. It's a type of intense focus seldom seen in a college player, much less a freshman. It's one of the reasons he dominated N.C. State's high-profile point guard Lorenzo Brown in just his fourth collegiate start.
And it's the same reason he dropped 25 points in Allen Fieldhouse before doing a backflip to celebrate OSU's first win in Lawrence in his entire life.
Another example would be when he scored 17 of his career-high 28 points after halftime in a come-from-behind overtime victory against rival Oklahoma.
He's proven time and time again that he lives for big moments. And more often than not, he's going to deliver.
And as a result, there really is no way to measure his impact on OSU basketball.
That's why he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Durant and Beasley. He is a born winner and he raises the abilities of those around him. Even on nights where his production might dip, his effort is never questioned.
There are many factors built in to OSU's resurgence with a 23-7 record and 13-5 conference mark but none are more glaringly obvious than the arrival of Smart.
The word most often used to describe him is ‘special,' and he has delivered a season for OSU fitting of the same word.
Upon learning he'd won the awards, Smart said he wasn't going to do much to celebrate because he doesn't read into individual honors; he's focused on what this Cowboy team can still accomplish in the postseason.
And, with Smart at the helm, there's no limit to what they can achieve.