Oklahoma State out to reverse program’s fade

Travis Ford is counting on a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans to

lead his Oklahoma State program out of the bottom half of the Big

12.

Freshman point guard Marcus Smart will join second-year forward

Le’Bryan Nash this season and the pair will try to reverse a

consistent fade by the Cowboys over the past few seasons.

Oklahoma State went the second round of the NCAA tournament in

Ford’s first season as coach, then got knocked off in the first

round the following year. Then came the real dip, a quick exit in

the NIT followed by last season’s 15-18 finish with no postseason

appearance.

This season starts Nov. 9 with a home game against UC Davis.

”We know that last year wasn’t a good year for us, so we’re

just looking back on that and trying to respond from that,” Nash

said. ”We’re talented. There’s no about that. … We’re talented.

It’s just: Go out there and do it.”

That starts with Nash, who was a unanimous all-Big 12 preseason

selection by the coaches after averaging 13.3 points as the

league’s top freshman a season ago. His numbers were even better in

conference play before he missed the end of the season with a

broken left hand.

”I get a lot of comments that I had a bad year. To me, I don’t

think I had a bad year,” Nash said. ”I ain’t going to say I had a

great year but I had an average freshman year – you know, 13 points

is real good to be a freshman.”

Ford wants even more from Nash, starting with a willingness to

play harder and give second and third efforts. Ford believes that,

unlike this time a year ago, Nash understands what he’s

demanding.

”The difference is last year I couldn’t tell him what he did in

high school is not going to equate that easily in college,” Ford

said. ”Some guys have to go through it to understand it. He went

through it – the frustrations, huge peaks and valleys. Now he gets

it. Is he mature player? We’ll see. There’s a maturity process and

he went through it. Do I see improvement in his play? No doubt

about it. He’s got a better mindset.”

Ford, who’s in the fifth year of a seven-year, $9.1 million

contract, doesn’t see the same issues with Smart.

”He won’t struggle with what most freshman will. As far as

playing hard, competing physically at this level, he has all

that,” Ford said. ”He makes more extra effort plays than most

freshmen.”

Ford expects the 6-foot-4 Smart to play point guard more than he

did in high school and solidify a position that has been a

revolving door since Byron Eaton finished his senior year in Ford’s

debut season. Three players who manned the position last season –

Fred Gulley, Reger Dowell and Cezar Guerrero – transferred out of

the program over the course of the past year.

Smart has grabbed the reins, starting with a preseason

exhibition tour in Spain and carrying over into practice when Nash

has noticed him chasing down offensive rebounds and making key

steals.

”He’s just a winner. We need guys like that, especially at the

point guard position,” Nash said. ”We need a floor general.”

Despite the recent results, the Big 12’s coaches thought highly

enough of the Cowboys to pick them to finish third in the preseason

poll, behind No. 7 Kansas and No. 19 Baylor. Those selections came

before Oklahoma State lost starting forward Brian Williams to a

season-ending wrist injury, possibly forcing Nash to shift more to

power forward than his preferred place on the wing.

”I like the versatility of this team. We should be long and

athletic. We lose some athleticism with Brian Williams out but

we’re still long and hopefully that can cause some havoc

defensively,” Ford said. ”But I like that we have some guys from

last year that got some very valuable experience that understand

what they are about to get into.”

That’s certainly the case for Nash.

”I’ve got one year under my belt, so I know what’s going to

come from the teams, and obviously teams in the Big 12. I’m

ready,” Nash said. ”It’s just another mindset that I want to win

a Big 12 championship. … I’m going to do whatever it takes to

help this team win a Big 12 championship.”