If you were to describe the upcoming college basketball season with one name, it’d probably be Wiggins, as in Kansas freshman forward Andrew Wiggins. Just about anywhere you look you will see the name of the teenage phenom that has general managers and basketball pundits salivating at what could be.
While Wiggins potential is off the charts, he won’t be the best player in the NCAA this year. He won’t even be the best player in his own conference. Both of those titles belong to a player who is used to being overlooked by the national media: Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart.
Smart was the 10th-ranked player in his own high school class and the third overall point guard prospect. However, Smart came to Stillwater and turned the heads of many… all while turning Oklahoma State into a contender for the Big 12 Conference title. Last season as a freshman, the Cowboys lead guard put up a stat line of 15.4 points, 4.2 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. By season’s end, he was named a Second Team All-American, the USBWA National Freshman of the Year, Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year, and was voted onto the First-Team All-Big 12, Big 12 All-Defensive team and the Big 12 All-Rookie team.
Smart became a regular part of the 2013 NBA Draft talk, and many had him penciled in as high as the No. 2 pick to the Orlando Magic, a team desperately in need of a franchise lead guard. However, Smart shocked pretty much everyone when he declared he would be returning to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. On that day — April 17, 2013 — he cemented his spot as the best player in the NCAA.
Smart does everything imaginable on the court. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, he has the height and size to overpower other guards, and it shows with his ability to rebound and get into the paint and finish. For a bigger, lumbering guard he has a deceptive amount of athleticism. He also plays all out on both ends of the floor; Smart wasn’t second in the nation in steals per game by accident. He was the Cowboys’ best defender and most games set the tone for Oklahoma State on the defensive end.
However, Smart’s skill-set encompasses more than just what he can do on the court. His intangibles are off the chart. He is a great leader.
As a freshman last year, his voice was immediately heard and followed by his upperclassmen teammates. This dates back to his high school and AAU days as well where he willed his teams to wins that seemed impossible on paper.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Smart has a year of Big 12 competition under his belt that can’t be depreciated by those on the outside, and yet Smart has fallen out of the public eye simply because he was already there. College basketball has new, shiny toys in a talented and deep freshmen class that includes Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, but as freshmen they’re still unproven.
The world saw what Smart can do and he did it consistently — over and over again last season. This year will feature a hungrier Smart (maybe even slimmer if my eyes don’t deceive me, based off the BallisLife video) than most have seen before and that can only mean one thing: trouble.
While everyone else is fixed on potential stars, I’ll take the sure thing.
Will Smart be the best player in college basketball this season?
Follow Brandon on Twitter at @DOTcom_2.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.