KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the decision transpired, the one his head coach deemed improbable and teammates dared not hope for, Marcus Smart became the season’s biggest comeback story before the season even started.

Bona fide NBA lottery picks, much less top-five prospects, don’t typically stick around to become college sophomores. Yet there was the lion-hearted point guard last April, emerging from a two-week period of soul-scouring and self-conflict to spurn the draft and remain at Oklahoma State. Why postpone the paycheck? Why delay the dream?

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart joined Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley as the only freshmen to win Big 12 player of the year honors.

Because winners like Smart don’t blow off 13-point NCAA upset losses to Oregon. They don’t treat college basketball as a mere rung on the ladder to riches.

We sensed Smart was special when he became only the third freshman to earn Big 12 Player of the Year. He confirmed it by becoming the only one to return for Year 2.

“He had some unfinished business here that he needed to get handled,” said OSU forward Michael Cobbins.

In that elimination ouster to Oregon, Smart was a cold-shooting, turnover-prone player with an injured wrist and a bruised ego. Hardly the legacy he wanted to leave at Oklahoma State.

“If we had made a deeper run I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said Tuesday during Big 12 media day. “But I don’t think me nor the team gave it our all against Oregon. It left a disgusting taste in our mouths.”

So disgusting that coach Travis Ford hasn’t reviewed the game video with his team. “He knows how hyped it’s going to get us,” Smart surmised.

And hype is already in rich supply for these Cowboys, so jammed with talent that league coaches are split on their chances of dethroning right-time defending champ Kansas. History sides with the Jayhawks, but from the moment Smart defied conventional wisdom by returning to school, OSU possessed the best starting five.

“Making history,” replied Smart when asked about this season’s mission at Oklahoma State. “We have everybody coming back and a great group of guys coming in, so why not?”

The kid is charismatic beyond his years, yet still inclined to embrace the fun side of college athletics. The same player who runs Ford’s team with bird-dog intensity on the court, keeps morale soaring off of it.

“I see him playing jokes on teammates and dancing in the locker room,” Ford said. “I think he understood it’s not quite like that in the NBA.

Multiple conversations with family and Ford preceded decision day in April, when the coach said Smart came to realize, “I can experience college for one more year and still play 15 years in the NBA.” It’s like having his cake and eating it too.”

Though OSU’s chance to be elite hinged upon his star’s return, Ford claimed to play devil’s advocate, reiterating what a prized draft spot Smart was forgoing.

“Marcus was a guaranteed top-three pick,” the coach said. “If money was the most important thing to him, he wouldn’t be here today.”

Smart wound up getting a taste of NBA competition anyway when he became one of two college players invited to the Team USA mini-camp this summer. That’s when Ford lobbied general managers to re-invest in Smart come 2014.

“He will change the atmosphere of your team,” said Ford. “You don’t want to be the guy five years down the road who passed on him.”

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  • jake

    thats contact in the pic above and sapost to be called a foul this season ....gonna make it a higher scoring game game.

  • Truthteller

    Lets be honest here Marshall fans and trolls.
    When was last time Marshall had a ranked team
    in football and/or basketball? When was last time Marshall played and won a BCS bowl? When was the last time Marshall went to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. I don't hate Marshall because it is in WV. But what a don't like is how Marshall fans hate WVU. Just because WVU has more success is not any reason to hate them. I just wish Marshall would stop having WVU envy and stop coveting their success. If you want respect then you have to work and earn respect. Get into a BCS bowl and win it. Earn your way to the Final Four. that is how you get respect. Not with hatred and a bad attitude. Marshall fans need to grow up and stop living in a fantasy world. Accept who you are and build on that. Stop the hate.

  • Big Larry

    Huggins will be mad when hurricane Larry sucks all BBQ from northeast with straw!!

  • Wisetalker

    Big Larry is rude, crude and uncouth...but he is right. WVU will probably have another losing season this year.

  • Carey Michael

    Big Larry, May God be with you!!!!!!

  • Billy

    Big Larry,
    Great post, honest and to the point.

  • Big Larry

    Yes, I know the truth about these things deeply hurts...and I realize that many of you prefer fiction over fact....

    ...but it is time for many of you Huggins sympathizers come out of your state of denial and face up to the reality of life in the real world.

    Upon watching your first WVU Basketball game, it should quickly occur to you that this will most likely be another losing season.

    And as you sit down with your family and watch your first WVU Mountaineer Basketball game and Bob Huggins in his Penn State (Blue & White) Sweatsuit, just remember one important thing...

    It is perfectly Okay to cry in front of your wife & kids.

    • Andy

      I'm quite sure you cry in front of your wife and kids a lot...which is why you think it's okay. Big Larry=Marsha troll

    • WVWho

      WVU may not make it past Fairmont State in their exhibition coming up. FSU is LOADED for a DII program under Calhoun.

  • wvajoker

    More braying, more drivel.

    • Habib Haddad

      What else in the animal kingdom brays?
      What did Jesus ride into Calvary?

      Same answer campers

  • Big Larry

    Here at WVU we can say...

    "Huggins postpones the championship to chase the paycheck".

    It is sad but I think that by now, everyone knows WVU will never see a championship of any kind under Bob "Sweatsuit" Huggins.

    Why would players the caliber of a Marcus Smart want to come to Morgantown to be screamed at by Hollorin Huggins for 4 years?

    In his seventh season at WVU, Huggins has yet to sign 1 McDonald's all American or a 5 star recruit.

    John Calipari, on the other hand (who is supposedly a close friend of Huggins), will have McDonald's all Americans sitting on the bench who will see very little playing time.

    Huggins top recruit out of this years recruiting class got arrested this week for disorderly conduct and is unable to make the grades.

    Bob Huggins failed to capitalize on a final four appearance with John Beilein's recruits and we have watched the WVU Basketball program spiral downward ever since.

    The program under Huggins has fallen into the Abyss with Huggins and the WVU Mountaineers winning only 13 games last season.

    Huggins claimed last year that he would "Fix it" but the only thing we saw him fix were more Barbeque sandwiches.

    Yes, it is a SAD day to be a WVU Basketball fan...wherever you may be!

    • Grant

      How many 5 star basketball recruits has WVU ever had?

      You bring up Coach Cal at UK. First, Coach Cal cheated at UMass and Memphis, so should we assume the same at UK? Second, UK is the top basketball program in the country and has been long before Coach Cal, so you really can't compare WVU and UK.