This isn’t the year that Oklahoma State University or its star sophomore guard, Marcus Smart, expected. This was supposed to be a season where the Cowboys would compete in a tough league for a Big 12 Conference championship, then make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Who would predict otherwise when a team was built around one of the nation’s premiere players? Smart was the guy who turned his back on a certain pro contract for one more season of college stardom and success.
That’s what fans expected. That’s what Smart expected. Now, that’s not likely to happen.
By now most fans - and non-fans, too - have seen the ugly confrontation last weekend in Lubbock where Smart shoved an obnoxious Texas Tech booster who'd made a derogatory court-side comment.
Players never intentionally go after a fan - unless their goal is to embarrass their teammates and their school. That’s forbidden.
Had this been Smart’s first outburst, one might wonder if it was a momentary lapse of judgment. But it wasn’t. There was the game at West Virginia in late January where Smart had a chair-kicking tantrum against the Mountaineers. There have been other examples of boorish behavior this season, as well.
None of these other incidents seemed to draw the ire or anger of Smart's coaches. As of Saturday, he had started in all of Oklahoma State's 23 games, averaging 31.6 minutes per contest. Punishment? What punishment?
It begs the question: Where were his coaches when he needed them most?
In Lubbock, it was Smart's teammates who ushered him away from the ugly situation against Texas Tech.
Has Smart been allowed to become another coddled athlete too valuable to discipline? Was he a star performer who thought the rules applied only to someone else? It would seem the answer to both questions is yes.
Smart was a unanimous pre-season all-American, though Oklahoma State had a 16-7 record to show for it going into Tuesday night's game against Texas. It’s clear the Cowboys have underachieved this season. To say the same of Smart isn’t a stretch, either.
Now, with Smart serving a three-game suspension imposed by Oklahoma State and The Big 12, the Cowboys’ post-season hopes appear dashed. Even before the shoving incident, analysts were suggesting OSU’s demise and questioning Smart’s less-than-sterling production.
Overall, Smart has hit a modest 42.2 percent of his field goal attempts and a weak 28.1 percent of his three-point tries. He has been averaging 17.5 points a game.
Perhaps even more biting has been Oklahoma State’s recent slump. Headed into Tuesday, it had lost four games in a row and five of six. A team among the nation’s Top 10 a little more than a week ago has dropped out of the Top 25.
Smart must be wondering if he made a mistake by not turning pro after last season’s 24-9 run. This was supposed to be the year where he polished his game in a super-strong sophomore year. Travis Ford, coach at Oklahoma State, has said as much.
The pressure of living up to all-star billing hasn’t been easy. Being the target of relentless defensive pressure – as well as hostile and unruly fans – never is.
Smart’s sanction is far worse than a three-game suspension. As Oklahoma State Athletic Director Mike Holder said, the reputation a person has spent a lifetime building “can be gone in a blink of an eye.”
Smart apologized for his actions, sounding sincere. Is there enough time left to show that he can yet be trusted to do the right things?
In a world that accepts trash talk - where it's commonplace to call a player “a piece of crap," as Smart was, and where athletes' performances are assailed on social media - outrageous actions will replace athletic ones.
Marcus Smart needs to clean up his act. The same goes for loud-mouthed fans.
Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.