Smart Emerges as a Star

Texas was once considered a top option for Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, who has grown into one of the country's top players as a true freshman.

Just how effective has Smart been? He's the Big 12's only player to rank in the league's top 20 in points per game (14.2, seventh), rebounds per game (5.9, 14th), assists per game (4.7, sixth), steals per game (3.0, first) and blocks per game (0.8, 18th). Smart has accomplished the former despite a reliable jump shot, known as the lone flaw in the projected top-10 NBA Draft pick's game.

"Marcus Smart has made a tremendous impact, the way he plays the game helps the other guys and they have gotten to know what he does well," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. "They are a hard team to guard because they can spread you out. They have a big strong guy as point guard that can hold you out in every way possible."

Coming out of high school, Smart projected as an elite defensive wing who could play some point guard. But its seems that Oklahoma State decided to go the other way, deploying the linebacker-sized (and with a linebacker mentality) Smart at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds at point guard. The result has been a one-man wrecking crew defensively, with Smart swallowing up smaller point guards on defense while also destroying them on the glass.

That was apparent against Kansas, when Smart routinely went to the offensive glass down the stretch, grabbing eight offensive boards, and nine rebounds total, to go with his 25 points. On the game's final possession, with the Cowboys clinging to a three-point lead, Smart picked the pocket of Jayhawk point guard Elijah Johnson, flinging the ball ahead to teammate Phil Forte for an emphasis bucket and ending the Jayhawks' 33-game home winning streak.

Phil Forte is a key part of any conversation about Smart's recruitment. The Longhorns were considered to have a lead over the Jayhawks in the race for Smart's services before Oklahoma State offered Forte, Smart's best friend and someone that Smart has called "like my brother." The move paid off doubly well, as Smart chose to join Forte in Stillwater, and the undersized Forte has plugged into the lineup as an efficient shooter and ball-handler, ranking in the league's top 11 in both effective field goal percentage (11th) and true shooting percentage (ninth).

Meanwhile, the Longhorns have been waiting for their own star point guard to return, and don't have much longer to worry about it. This is the final game of Texas point guard Myck Kabongo's suspension, with Kabongo set to return this week against Iowa State. That could make for an interesting point guard matchup when these two teams meet up in Stillwater, but for now, the Longhorns will have to rely on Javan Felix, who has had an up-and-down season in Kabongo's absence.

If Smart came to Texas, he likely would have started his career as an off guard, but with Kabongo's suspension, it isn't difficult to see a scenario where he would have slid to the point, keeping Felix in that 15-minute-per-game range that the coaches have talked about as his ideal spot at this point in his development.

And with a team that has lost a number of close games, one could project that the Longhorns, had they landed Smart, would likely be in a much better spot come NCAA Tournament Selection time. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Cowboys and Longhorns flipped. That's the kind of impact Smart has made.

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