Forte's One Final Season With Smart

Phil Forte is preparing to enter unchartered territory. For the past 12 years, since they became best friends in the third grade, Forte and Marcus Smart have been playing basketball on the same court together. But the Oklahoma State sophomore guard knows that's about to change, and he wants to make the 2013-14 season one that both of them will remember for the rest of his lives.

Smart, the Preseason National Player of the Year as selected by Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, would have been one of the top three picks in the 2013 NBA Draft if he had elected to leave Oklahoma State after one of the most prolific seasons by a freshman in school history. However, he decided to bypass his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA to return to OSU for one more season.

Smart did say over the summer that this would definitely be his final year of college basketball, and Forte knows it will likely be his last go-round with his longtime teammate.

"Every day that crosses my mind. The clock is ticking on the time I have left to play basketball with him," Forte said on Monday during Oklahoma State's Winter Media Day. "It's definitely something I'm going to cherish every moment ... each game we finish, each practice we finish, that's just one less moment I have with him.

"So I'm definitely taking it all in, and enjoying it as much as I possibly can because before I know it, before I blink, it'll all be over."

Forte, like all OSU basketball fans, was on edge for several weeks following Oklahoma State's loss to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The 5-11 guard was determined to be a friend more than a teammate while Smart was agonizing over the decision to pass up being a first-round draft choice and signing a guaranteed million dollar contract or return to Stillwater for a chance to help the Cowboys end Kansas's streak of nine consecutive Big 12 regular season titles.

"I didn't talk to him about it at all. As his friend, I'm not going to sit here and tell him to come back and play with me. That's not being a friend, and would be selfish on my part," said Forte. "I'll be honest, when I found out (he was returning to OSU) I was the happiest person alive.

"He was really stressed out about it. There would be times he would wake up, (and say) I'm leaving, I've got to get out of here. There would be times he would wake up and be like, I'm not ready, I love Stillwater too much, I can't do it. It put me in a tough position at times. Obviously, I have no idea what he's going through – no one does – so I just tried to help him the best I could. Obviously, with the result, I'm not going to complain about it."

The Cowboys return more than 96 percent of their points, steals and assists from last season's 24-9 team, and nearly 84 percent of their rebounds. The top seven players from a year ago – Smart, Forte, Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins, Kamari Murphy and Brian Williams – return for the 2013-14 season.

A year ago, the Cowboys began the season unranked in the preseason polls. This year, they are considered a top-10 team, and with that ranking come expectations that none of the current players have experienced since arriving in Stillwater.

But lofty expectations are nothing new to Forte and Smart, who won two Texas Class 5A state titles at Flower Mound Marcus High School and compiled a 115-6 record over three seasons.

"That's what you want in sports. You want to be at the top, you want to be the one winning a lot," said Forte, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2012 Texas Class 5A State Tournament after averaging 17 points in two games, including a game-high 24 in a 56-52 championship game victory over Fort Bend Travis.

"If you're not the one being the hunted something is wrong. (If) you're not winning, you're not where you want to be. This is the spot you want, and you want to take advantage of it because you never know what can happen. Just like that, it can all go away. You just really cherish this spot and work hard, and just take it one day at a time."

The Cowboys are now among the hunted in the college basketball world.

"Coach Ford has mentioned that several times," said Forte. "It is different when you're being the hunted instead of the hunter. We know that we're going to have to bring it every day in practice, and in games we're going to get (every) team's best shot. We know that we have to go out there and execute, even when it's just practice, and play as hard as we can."

Forte averaged 10.2 points while playing in all 33 games as a freshman, including a career-best 26 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range in OSU's 80-66 victory over West Virginia on Jan. 26, 2013. In addition, he became one of the team's best defenders and had just 16 turnovers in 835 minutes of court time, an average of 0.77 turnovers per 40 minutes, a school record.

But Cowboys head coach Travis Ford is expecting more out of him as a sophomore.

"The best way I can describe it is Phil Forte is a better player today than he was at the end of the year last year, and he was a good player last year. You're talking about a young man who averaged 10 points a game last year as a freshman as a non-starter, and that's pretty good. But I think he's a much better player right now than he was at the end of the year last year because he's worked so hard on his game," said Ford.

"Phil Forte is a player that you have to have on the court. He does so many things right defensively, he gives you such a weapon offensively, his toughness, he has a really good knack for stealing the ball. Whereas this time last year I would be sitting here saying I hoped would be a role player, now he's an impact player. He's not a role player any more."

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