STILLWATER, Okla. — Bucking the one-and-done trend across college basketball, Big 12 player of the year Marcus Smart announced Wednesday he will return for his sophomore season at Oklahoma State with a team that will be loaded with professional prospects.
Proclaiming he’s a “Cowboy at heart,” Smart said he made his decision after consulting with his family and praying on it, and knowing fully what he could be passing up by skipping this chance to enter the NBA draft as a likely top-five pick.
“There’s a lot of speculation going. I’ve been bashed and criticized that I probably made a mistake of coming back here, the NBA will be there, I should have took it, and this year’s draft class is much weaker than next year’s,” said Smart, who led the Cowboys by averaging 15.4 points and 4.2 assists last season.
“But I think I made the right decision,” he said. “All that was telling me, from those people that said that, is they don’t have confidence in my ability and my game to compete with those players next year. You guys have given me that confidence to do that, so I chose to stay here. I’m aware of how much money I am giving up.”
With Smart leading the way at the point, Oklahoma State made it back to the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence and finished the season with a 24-9 record. He joined Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, both former No. 2 NBA draft picks, as the only players to sweep the Big 12’s player of the year and freshman of the year honors.
But Smart decided that “OSU is where I wanted to be for one more year and enjoy being a kid.”
“It was a hard decision to make. I love you guys,” Smart said at a news conference held in a three-story atrium at the center of OSU’s student union, with onlookers lined up at the railings to watch. I’m a Cowboy at heart. So it looks like I’m coming back for my sophomore year.”
Teammate Kamari Murphy rushed up from the side of the stage to give Smart a big hug. Moments earlier, the team’s second- and third-leading scorers — Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash — told the crowd they’d also be returning.
“Even though we all could have did what we dreamed of, it’ll still be there after next year,” said Brown, who averaged 15.3 points.
With all of them coming back, coach Travis Ford’s team will have among the highest expectations of any team in the country next season. Immediately after Smart’s announcement, a lone fan started chanting “Final Four!”
Last season, the Cowboys finished third in the Big 12 and earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament before getting upset in their opener by Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon for a disappointing finish.
“All my life, I’ve been a winner, you know, back-to-back state championships and then to come in and finally make the NCAA tournament. Just all my life I’ve been winning,” Smart said. “But this team, I felt like we had a lot more to accomplish. We were a lot better team than that. That’s just not the way we wanted to go out. It helped me a little bit to get motivated to come back this year.”
Smart had said as recently as Monday, at a banquet where he received the Wayman Tisdale Award as the nation’s top freshman, that he hadn’t made his decision yet. But Ford said Smart informed him that night, after speaking with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and national player of the year Trey Burke from Michigan, that he intended to come back.
Ford told him to sleep on it and talk to him Tuesday, then made him keep thinking about it for a few more hours before Oklahoma State formalized plans for his announcement.
“When he told me, I was relieved for him because it’s been, as you can imagine, a very stressful time trying to decide, with so many people, hearing from so many different sides,” Ford said. “Obviously, I was excited, and I told him I was excited because he was excited. I told him he knows I would love to coach all these guys another year but I understand both sides of it. I understand it very well.
“All we kept telling these guys, `Do what you want to do, and do what’s going to excite you.’ If you say you’re going to come back, I want you to say it with a smile. If you say you want to go to the NBA, say it with a smile. Whatever it is, I want you to be happy.”