Everybody wants a piece of Marcus Smart.
And as accommodating as the Oklahoma State basketball star has been, his coach finally decided enough was enough after Smart's appearance on the ESPN GameDay set prior to the Cowboys' football battle with Baylor Saturday.
Media types want to interview him, fans want to touch him, opposing players want to guard him and NBA teams, including perhaps even the Orlando Magic, want to draft him. All Travis Ford wants to do is coach him, and some of this stuff was getting in the way.
"At some point, we just have to scale it back a little bit," Ford said Wednesday after the Cowboys' practice session at the Old Spice Classic, which begins at noon Thanksgiving Day with Oklahoma State taking on Purdue at ESPN's Wide World of Sports, where Smart will be on full display.
"We fully understand everybody wants to talk to him and we love that and he loves talking to people. It's not something he asked for. … We need to let the kid be. He needs his time and needs to rest, he needs to focus and he needs to do certain things, so that's why we've cut out some things."
It's a situation Ford whole-heartedly embraces. He realizes Smart could well be suiting up for an NBA team right now, but he chose to come back to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season despite being projected as possibly the first or second pick in last summer's NBA Draft.
It was a decision that surprised many, and a decision that disappointed numerous opposing coaches, including USF's Stan Heath. He was able to see Smart first-hand during the Cowboys pre-tournament 93-67 rout of the Bulls in Tampa on Monday.
"How the heck he came back to school, I have no idea, but he did," Heath said. "That guy is a pro. He is a flat out pro. That's what you're watching out there, an NBA guard."
Smart scored 23 of his 25 points against USF in the first half Monday night, including a 70-foot buzzer-beater to end the first half. Smart was coming off a 39-point performance in a rout of Memphis last week.
"In his last few games, his first halves have been as good as anybody I have ever seen," Heath said. "They've got a great player … He's arguably the best player in the country."
The 21-point victory over Memphis bumped the Cowboys up to No. 5 in the top 25 rankings, and Heath said it's not all Smart.
Markel Brown also had 25 points against USF, and Oklahoma State has five players averaging double figure-scoring.
"They are not a one-man team. They have some more guys with him and they looked like a team that was in mid- to late-season form," Heath said. "They're firing on a lot of cylinders. It's really hard to stop them because they've got so many weapons and they can hurt you in a lot of different ways."
Memphis, which is ranked No. 21, is also in the Old Spice tournament field and it is thought to be the first time the eighth-year tournament has had two teams from the top 25. The Tigers, in the opposite half of the bracket from Oklahoma State, could see the Pokes again if they can make it to Sunday's 7:30 p.m. title game.
"The Oklahoma State game was good for us and not good for us," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "It was not good for us because when you get your butt kicked like that, it's no fun, but it was good for us because it allowed us an opportunity to have, as I call it, course correction, to be able to see things we need to fix in a hurry. We're on a highway and we got off on the wrong exit, so we need to get back on the highway."
That exit took the Tigers to Stillwater, Okla., and Gallagher-Iba Arena, never an easy place for any visitor to be successful, so the Tigers could be anxious to get another shot at the Pokes on a neutral surface. Pastner, however, cautions against that mentality.
"We're not a team that can look past anybody and so our concentration is focused on us, getting better and obviously locked in on playing Siena in our first game here," Pastner said. "You can't get to Sunday [championship game] if you don't take care of business on Thursday."
Memphis and Siena tip off the evening session at the HP Field House on Thursday at 6:30, while the other games will match Butler against Washington State at 2 p.m., and St. Joseph's against LSU in the nightcap at 8:30.
Tickets for the tournament can be purchased at oldspiceclassic.com or by calling 407-939-4263. Games are played Thursday, Friday and Sunday, airing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.
As for Smart's GameDay appearance, he actually did pretty well. He only missed one of the 11 games he picked, which was Northwestern over Michigan State. He did get a few boos from the home crowd after he picked Oklahoma over Kansas State, but he was right — the hated Sooners won.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun