One-On-One With Smart, Forte's Head Coach

Go Pokes did an extensive one-on-one interview with Flower Mound Marcus coach Danny Henderson. Henderson's Marauders are 31-2 and are led by Oklahoma State signees Marcus Smart and Phil Forte. Smart was named a McDonald's All-American and Forte was a McDonald's nominee but missed the final cut. Henderson discusses the season, both players and defending the state title in this two-part interview.

Obviously you all knew you could have this type of season going in but what has the focus and drive of this team been like?

"Well we were really focused up until Christmas because we were playing what I guess you could call a ‘national schedule' to some degree. We played several nationally ranked team from Montrose Christian to Findlay Prep and some teams out of Texas, North Carolina and some other places that were nationally ranked. We were incredibly focused and played great before Christmas.

"Findlay beat us is phenomenal. They're just ridiculous. They have 12 Division I guys and we should have beaten them. We had them down in the fourth quarter but missed five-straight free throws or we would have beaten them."

Did your team lose some of that focus once you started playing more familiar opponents?

"Yes. Until Christmas we were very focused and then something we weren't really ready for happened. You could kind of see it coming. Even in the Whataburger Tournament, which we had won two years in a row, and the beginning of district play was kind of anticlimactic. We never really had that feel to us. We had played really well and then we go to this tournament that we had dominated in the past and we went through about a 10-game stretch there where we lost our focus. We still won all the games but one. We lost one to Richland High School, who is ranked No. 4 in 5A down here in Texas. We played really poorly in that game, got in bad foul trouble and just weren't focused. After that 10-game stretch, we've been really sharp so we're very pleased with how we're playing. I think the kids can kind of smell the playoffs."

You mentioned the national schedule, focusing in on Marcus Smart and Phil Forte here, how much do you think playing a national schedule like that benefits them?

"Oh my gosh it's just great. To have played against the kids from Findlay Prep, for example, at the time we played them they had nine kids who had already signed Division I scholarships. From what I understand, three more have committed since then and I knew they would. They're just phenomenal. To play against those guys who are signed with Oregon, UNLV, wherever and to play so well against them, it gave them and all our kids confidence. We played Montrose who had won the big ESPN national tournament; we played them on ESPN and beat them. They have several bigtime players, too. Those games gave Phil and Marcus great confidence and I think it was extremely beneficial. There's no doubt about it."

With Marcus Smart, how rewarding is it for you to have watched him get the recognition he got by being named a McDonald's All-American?

"It couldn't happen to a better or more deserving kid. He's so humble and every kid in school just loves him. He treats the ninth-grade manager like he's his equal and that's the way he is with everyone. There is no cockiness to Marcus Smart. He's just a wonderful, wonderful kid."

What did you all do when you found out he had been selected?

"We had a watch party at Buffalo Wild Wings on announcement day. We knew that he made it because they had to contact us beforehand but the audience didn't know yet. We had that place packed. There wasn't a seat in the house at the Buffalo Wild Wings down here in Flower Mound. It was full of Marcus' fans. It was a really generous showing of how people here feel about him. People just went absolutely wild when his name was announced; it was really neat."

Can you talk a little about the senior year Marcus has had so far?

"He's more than met his expectations and there was so much expected of him. I'm sorry I keep going back to the Findlay game but take that one for example, I can't see how anyone watched that game without knowing he the best player on the court. Even though we lost the game, they had us outmanned to a great degree, but he was just phenomenal in that game. He's been that way all year. I'm telling you right now, Oklahoma State got a special one. There may be more talented players, there may be players in the class of 2012 who end up being better professional players, but Travis Ford got the best college player in America.

"I'm going to tell you why: He will transform their practices. You talk about a kid that brings it every single drill in every single practice. I mean it's just unreal and his leadership is off the charts and he never, ever takes a day off. That's an intangible you can't even measure as for what it does for your team and your program."

Where has he improved his game the most his senior year?

"I think it's his perimeter shooting but he's gotten more athletic every year. He was very athletic last year but it's like he's just jumped to an entirely different level and you have to remember he's not even 18 years old yet. He turns 18 in March so he's going to continue developing athletically and that's scary to think about."

One area where he faces a lot of criticism from analysts is his ball handling. I've watched him play a few times and can't really see it but you hear it a lot. Is there much truth to that claim?

"You know I've heard them say the same thing and I'm glad you brought that up. A couple of the guys who have said it are really reputable people who's opinion I respect but wow they're just completely off base. He's a big time ball handler. I will promise you he can play point guard for Oklahoma State. Now I don't know if that's where coach Ford thinks he will best suit the team but I'll put it like this: I've seen him play in Vegas and I've seen him play all over the country in the summer when you're going up against the best kids from around the nation — he's plays point for us, too — I've never seen anybody take it from him. Ever. And there is no one he can't get by. I don't know what they're talking about.

"Supposedly Magic Johnson was a suspect ball handler, too. Where people miss the boat is that nobody could get it from him and he could go anywhere on the court with the way he used his body. Marcus has those same qualities because he's so strong. He has the ball on a string. Again, I have no idea what they're seeing when they say that. His ball handling will never be an issue for one second at OSU. In some ways I think they're over analyzing all those kids and try to find fault because it makes them sound smart."

Part II of this interview will be published Saturday. There is more on Marcus Smart and there is also analysis of fellow OSU commit Phil Forte's senior season.

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