KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hate Marcus Smart? How can you hate Marcus Smart? The man is poetry, in an Ochocinco sort of way. On one side, Oklahoma State’s star point guard has the word “Cowboys” shaved into his head. On the other side, it says, “Wiggins sucks.”
OK, so we made the second part up. But even if the thought isn’t written on his head, it sure as hell isn’t far from the back of his mind.
“A lot of people (are) saying he’s the best player now in college basketball,” Smart said Tuesday during Big 12 men’s basketball media day when asked about the force of nature that is Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins. “All I’m saying is, how can you be the best player at something you haven’t even played yet?”
Dude’s got a point.
And the sophomore from Texas wants to be clear on something else, too: He has no beef with the king. His beef is with the dopes who voted to give Wiggins the crown, sight unseen.
“Now I’m not saying he’s not (the best). I’m not saying he can’t (be),” Smart continued. “But what I’m saying is, if it was like (with) me, don’t just give it to me. Let me at least earn it.”
Wiggins is a preseason All-Big 12 first-teamer, the only fella to ever pull that off without ever having played a single collegiate minute first.
First stage: Hype.
Second stage: Backlash.
“I mean, it’s good to say it and everything,” said Smart, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year after averaging 15.4 points and 4.2 assists as a freshman with the Cowboys last winter. “But all the hype — that’s good for him, congratulations.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’m not taking anything away from Andrew Wiggins, you know, anything like that. Good player. Congratulations to him. Hope he does well in the future.
“But like I’m saying, he puts his shorts on one leg at a time, like me. And if he’s the best player like people say, then if that’s the case, in order for me to be the best, I have to play the best and I have to beat the best, right?”
Conventional wisdom says it’s best to let sleeping bears lie. But then again, Smart has never been one for conventional wisdom. He’s a 6-foot-4 point man with a power forward physique, a linebacker type who’s just as comfortable banging in the paint as he is turning ankles along the perimeter.
Every draftnik in the known universe projected him as a lottery pick last spring. But Smart hurt his left wrist in an NCAA Tournament loss to Oregon, couldn’t lift so much as a basketball until May and, to the surprise of pundits and the delight of the folks in Stillwater, elected to return for one more year.
“You get to the real world, it’s all you,” Smart said. “You’ve got to get a job, you’ve got to pay for everything on your own. Why not enjoy that (college life) right now? That’s kind of the thing that kind of brought me back. Like I said, we had everybody coming back. We had a great group of guys coming in and coming back. So why not?”
And hey, why not poke that bear with a stick, while we’re at it?
“I mean, of course, everybody’s going to be mad,” Cowboys forward Michael Cobbins said. “I feel like the bear’s already been poked just by us (being) ranked as high as we’re going to be. And so there’s going to be a target on our backs so everybody’s going to try to come after us as it is.”
Wiggins just shrugged.
“Doesn’t matter,” the Jayhawk freshman said. “I don’t play for (anyone) else on any other team.”
Don’t hate the player. Hate the build-up. When Smart announced he was coming back to the Cowboys for his sophomore season, it made Oklahoma State the prohibitive favorite to snap the Jayhawks’ stranglehold on nine straight conference titles.
For about six minutes.
Then Wiggins committed to KU in May, and all that “prohibitive favorite” stuff went KABLOOEY, like a skyscraper in a “Die Hard” movie.
“Some people called me (about it),” said Smart, whose phone apparently “blew up” when word got out that Wiggins, the nation’s No. 1 prep recruit, was heading to Lawrence. “I’m a competitor, so, obviously, I was like, ‘OK, congratulations.’ It’s time to go now, it’s time to get back to work. So we knew what we had coming in. We knew it’s not going to be a cakewalk and we know we’re going to have to go play. And now it’s an even bigger motivator for us and this Oklahoma State team.”
So, yeah, Smart stopped short of saying he’s got a giant dartboard in his room with a picture of Wiggins in the center. Although …
“It was a big motivator,” the Cowboys’ guard said. “We know he’s a good player, don’t get me wrong … Kansas is always a great team. (They) have a great coaching staff with Coach (Bill) Self. He puts his players in the right position to win games, and that’s why they’ve won nine straight. But like I said, we also have our starting five back. So I mean, we’re pretty good, too. I mean, we’re not going to back down from any challenge.”
Poke, poke, poke.
Pssssst. Hey, bear. You awake?
“I don’t know if that’s calling somebody out or not,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen (the comments).
“One thing I know about Marcus … he’ll tell you what’s on his mind. But I know he has a great amount of respect for Andrew Wiggins and what he’s going to go through as a freshman. So, no, I don’t think it was anything where he was trying to ‘start’ anything.”
Fair enough. Besides, the bigger question is: Who’s going to finish it?
“I mean, Wiggins has got a lot of hype, and Marcus Smart is a good player,” observed Baylor guard Brady Heslip, who’s played with Wiggins up in Canada and played against Smart in the Big 12. “It’s going to be cool when they match up. I hope I get to watch that game.”
January 18 in Lawrence. March 1 in Stillwater. Maybe a rubber match, too. If we’re lucky.
“That’s Marcus, you know?” Cobbins said. “He doesn’t care who it is, or what challenge he has to face — whatever it is, he’s all for it. He’s going to get the job done.”
Even 1-on-1, if he gets the call to guard Maple Jordan?
“I think he’d do pretty good, obviously.” Yeah, but Wiggins is kind of a big dude …
“So is Marcus.”
How big, we’re all about to find out.
“If he’s the best player,” Smart said, “fans will get their money’s worth when we play Kansas.”
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com