2012--13 RECORD 24--9 BIG 12 13--5 (3RD) WHAT'S BACK MINUTES: 86.3% POINTS: 93.6% REBOUNDS: 68.9%
For all of the chatter All-America Marcus Smart generated last April, when he decided to return to school instead of entering the NBA draft, his coach, Travis Ford, has been more impressed by Smart's decision making at the point guard position. That's why Ford is giving his 6'4", 220-pound sophomore free rein with the Cowboys' fast-moving offense. Think Peyton Manning in hightops. "He's calling plays, he's making changes on the fly, he's deciding how to get the ball to a guy who's hot or slow it down depending on time and score," Ford says. "I'm giving him more freedom than I've given any player in my 17 years as a head coach."
That's a high level of trust for a guy who never played the point before coming to Stillwater last fall, and it reflects Smart's innate leadership ability as much as his prodigious talent. Joining him are two other all-conference candidates in guard Markel Brown, a 6'3" jumping jack and the team's lone scholarship senior, and Le'Bryan Nash, a 6'7" junior forward. That means Oklahoma State has the league's top three returning scorers. "I was real close to leaving, but I knew if I came back we would have a chance to make history," Smart says.
Oklahoma State's chances of reaching the Final Four will hinge largely on the degree to which Nash has matured. The former McDonald's All-American came to Stillwater as a heralded recruit, but he has treated his time on the court too much like an NBA audition, firing ill-conceived three-pointers (making just 23.7%) instead of establishing himself in the paint. "We need him to rebound better and continue to get to the foul line," Ford says. "When he's playing to his strengths, he can be a real mismatch."
With Smart running the show, this team seems destined to make a deep tournament run. Remember that the 2014 Final Four will be held in Irving, Texas. Isn't that where Cowboys play?
Projected Lineup (2012--13 STATS)
PG MARCUS SMART*
SOPH. 6'4" 15.4 PPG 4.2 APG
SG MARKEL BROWN*
SR. 6'3" 15.3 PPG 2.4 APG
SF BRIAN WILLIAMS
JR. 6'5" 4.1 PPG 1.9 RPG
PF LE'BRYAN NASH*
JR. 6'7" 14.0 PPG 4.1 APG
C MICHAEL COBBINS*
JR. 6'8" 6.9 PPG 6.1 RPG
G PHIL FORTE
SOPH. 5'11" 10.2 PPG 1.1 SPG
PF KAMARI MURPHY
SOPH. 6'8" 3.8 PPG 3.9 RPG
TRAVIS FORD (6TH SEASON)
SIWhat are your biggest concerns with this team?
TF We need to cut down on turnovers, and we're lacking a physical presence at the rim. We're going to change up defenses more than we have in the past so we can camouflage that a little bit.
SIWere you surprised by Marcus Smart's decision to return for this year?
TF I can't say I was that surprised. The best part of it was that he made the decision he wanted to make. I didn't push him to stay; his parents didn't push him to leave. It was all on him. That's usually not the case [these days].
SIYou were a great outside shooter when you played at Kentucky. Are you still the best shooter in the gym?
TF Phil Forte is pretty good, but if you put me on one spot, I'm hard to beat. You get me moving around a little bit, and that's a different story.
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ROUND OF 64
ROUND OF 64
PORTER BINKS (FORD)
PETER G. AIKEN/GETTY IMAGES (SMART)
ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MASCOT)