Against in-conference rival Texas Tech University, Oklahoma State University Basketball’s point guard, Marcus Smart, displayed the fire and intensity that can drive a team to a title. Instead of directing his energy toward what was happening on the court, however, Smart went haywire and physically confronted a fan in the waning seconds of his team’s loss.
Had he bottled up his now-apparent frustration and instead used the ill-will of hostile fans as motivation to win, we might be referring to Smart, a potential lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft, in a better light. In the span of two weeks, Smart has seen his once flawless legacy become tarnished, leaving his future career in question.
Eight months ago, Smart turned down millions in order to stick around another season in Stillwater. He was pegged as a preseason All-American and a godsend, becoming one of very few stars of the “one-and-done” era to disregard the promise of a professional contract and instead return to the NCAA. He was undoubtedly ready to advance to the next level of competition, but instead chose to stick around campus to pursue a national title, as well as revel in the attention that the Stillwater community provides him.
This season was supposed to be a victory lap for Marcus Smart. NBA scouts know he possesses the skills to play against the likes of LeBron, Kevin Durant and Kobe. Many of the scouts were puzzled when he turned down the opportunity to get drafted.
College hoops fans rejoiced, as Smart’s decision to remain in school only added to the drama that has defined this season. With all the hype surrounding incoming freshman talent, Smart diverted attention back to himself. For one, University of Kansas’ freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins would have to go through Smart just to be the best player in the Big 12 Conference.
Things have not gone as planned, though. Oklahoma State’s rollercoaster season began with the Cowboys looking like a team poised for a title run in March, but recently has become muddled by their rapid descent in the rankings. Plummeting in the standings would be an understatement—four straight losses in the heat of their Big 12 schedule have resulted in what has become an all-out free fall for Smart’s team.
Saturday night’s episode, in which Smart went after a Texas Tech “superfan” named Jeff Orr, summed up what has been a forgettable two weeks in Stillwater. Bringing back memories of Ron Artest, now Metta World Peace, and the “Malace at the Palace,” the 19-year-old Smart pushed Orr after what appeared to be a heated exchange of words. Smart was assessed a technical foul and immediately escorted to the bench by teammates, all the while yelling back at Orr and the refs.
It was an ugly moment for Smart, a moment that has now put his NBA readiness in question. No matter his stellar resume and stat line, many critics believe he must be held accountable. Despite allegations that racism provoked Smart to fight back, a dark light has been cast on a budding teenage star, potentially rebuking his status in the upcoming draft.
The kid is under immense pressure to perform, having turned down the NBA to stick around. Should he not perform to the same level, his draft stock will plummet. Tragically, that is the least of Smart’s worries at this point, as now he has a public relations campaign to embark on in order to restore some faith in scouts.
All of this at the age of just 19.
Smart in no way should have responded the way he did, but to trash his reputation in the aftermath is not right. I get it that he crossed a line and pulled the ultimate “no-no” in spectator sports by attacking a fan, but can some retribution not be aimed at the involved fan as well? Whether or not a racial slur was uttered, Orr is just as responsible for what transpired. Maturity questions aside, what right does a middle-aged man have to trash a young student-athlete?
I bring this up because as at a school with a renowned fan base, it is important to keep in mind what constitutes “going too far” when cheering at games. In no way do I mean that fans cannot make it difficult for the opposing team to compete—that’s part of home court advantage—but in all cases, there has to be moderation.
When the game is already won, fans should not take jabs at the opposing team. Salting fresh wounds is painful, and when stakes are as high as they are for Smart and his team, even one negative word uttered by a fan can set them off.
As Duke heads into its biggest games of the season against in-state rival The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and ACC powerhouse Syracuse University, I hope we as a fan base can avoid the type of actions that will cause even our most-despised rival players to erupt violently.
For the sake of the game itself, let’s not provoke any player to fall into the trap that Marcus Smart is now entangled in. We can be passionate, but let the egos stay on the court and not enter the stands.
Mark Schreiber is a Trinity freshman. His column runs every other Tuesday. Send Mark a message on Twitter @MarkSchreib.