By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER — Decked in bright orange Oklahoma State University polos, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash announced in front of a large crowd of OSU students in the atrium of the student union that the trio would return to Stillwater next season.
The biggest shocker of the three was easily Smart, who was projected to be a top five pick in the NBA draft by most experts. The freshman point guard from Flower Mound, Texas, who won the Big 12 Conference Player and Freshman of the Year Award, received a resounding response for the OSU faithful on hand — and made sure to address those criticizing his decision to return.
“I am aware of how much money I am giving up (by not going to the NBA). It’s a lot of money, but I feel like I made the right decision,” Smart said. “I feel like making that decision and giving up that much money showed me the true colors of some people in my life and the people close to me. It showed the true colors of how they really think and how they really feel of me. I think I made the right decision and go Pokes.”
News of the trio’s expected return broke late Tuesday night, leaving little suspense for Wednesday’s announcement. Because of that, Brown decided to be a little playful when making his official announcement.
“Man, it’s been a long year. It’s been a great year playing with these guys, been a long journey. I don’t know what to say,” Brown said. “I’ve had the time to talk to my family, talk to my grandma, my uncles and we all came up with the decision that it was time for me to ... keep building on this legacy here at Oklahoma State.”
Oklahoma State’s top three scorers were surrounded by their teammates, who joined them on the stage set up in the middle of the student union. It was the idea of the returning players to hold the press conference at the student union to share the good news with the OSU fans.
However, the idea for all three players to stay was not a joint decision. According to the players, each made their own minds up — though admitting the knowledge of Smart’s decision to return weighed into the process somewhat.
“I guess you could say it played a little role. We all made decisions on our own and with our families and coaching staff,” Brown said. “We just sat down and really talked about what was best for us. I feel like we all came up with staying one more year would be the best thing to do. Even though we all could have done what we’ve dreamed of, it’ll still be there after next year. We just had to make the decision on our own.”
Smart said he had made up his mind following Monday’s Devon Energy College Basketball Awards banquet in Oklahoma City, where he received his national Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year trophy. At the banquet. He was given some sound advice from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and had the opportunity to talk with National Player of the Year Trey Burke, who had also decided to stay for a second year at Michigan and led them to a spot in the NCAA championship game.
“I’m not saying it works for everybody, but it definitely worked for him. He increased his potential and his stock, but he also increased his self as a player, as a person and maturity-wise,” Smart said. “He told me when he first got to college that he was gone, but then reality kicks in. He enjoyed the college life, enjoyed being a kid and decided to stay.”
Izzo addressed Smart while accepting his Wayman Tidsdale Humanitarian Award, referencing how Burke said how smart his decision to stay at Michigan has prepared him. For OSU coach Travis Ford, he was happy to hear the Spartans coach give his star point guard some food for thought.
“I pulled some money out of my pocket and asked how much I owed,” Ford joked. “But I think Marcus had his mind made up before then, I really believe that, but I think that helped. It helped having someone of his (Izzo’s) reputation, somebody who has been through it before and somebody who Marcus respects, it probably helped solidify how he was feeling.”