Smart talks about his rough childhood, staying in school and the Pokes' ceiling
This Q&A and more on Oklahoma State and the Big 12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
His Oklahoma State team checked in at No. 8 in our countdown.
You decided to forego the NBA Draft. Did you ever expect so many people to weigh in with opinions on your decision?
The society we live in, people are always worried about what other people are doing. Why they did it. What made them do it. That’s just the world we live in, especially with social media and everything. I wasn’t really surprised. But at the same time, it is my business, my decision — not their’s — so it doesn’t matter what they think. Not trying to disrespect anyone, everyone has a right to their opinion. At the same time, it’s my life.
None at all.
After some people weighed in, criticizing your decision and saying you’d be picked lower in a better draft class, you took offense to it. Talk about your response to those doubts of you and your game.
The morning I announced I was coming back, we actually watched ESPN and Skip (Bayless) and Stephen A. (Smith) were going at it. Skip made some comments that pretty much said he didn’t think I could play with this year’s draft class. My whole life I’ve been told I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that. It’s a motivator. For him to say that, I felt a little disrespected. All respect to him, but I didn’t agree with what he said. I know coming in here, nobody thought I’d accomplish all that I did my first year. Like I said, it all comes down to how bad you want it and how hard you work. I bet on myself. I know what I can do. I believe in my ability. And I’m a competitor. I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win.
Talking about this team, what do you like about this team’s collection of players?
The chemistry of this team. We were a tight team last year, but this year, more than ever, we’re tighter. And that’s going to go a long way. We’re just as experienced. We have depth, a lot of veteran guys on this team who knows what it takes. That’s always good. I just like the way we connect with each other.
What is the ceiling on this team?
There is none, none at all. It all comes down to us. No excuses. We have everyone back. It all comes down to how the dice rolls and how we make the dice roll. It’s up to us. We control our own destiny.
What is your favorite enemy arena in the Big 12?
Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse. Being good friends with Phil (Forte) and his dad being an alum who played football at KU, that’s all we used to hear –— stories about KU. Basketball. Football. We grew up watching Kansas and hearing the stories about how historic it is and about the major tradition there and how intense it is, and how hard it is to win there. And everybody knows that, it’s one of the hardest places in the country to go win. And it’s one of the great atmospheres.
What’s your least favorite arena?
Texas Tech, just because of the atmosphere. It’s a nice coliseum to play in. It’s huge. It looks beautiful, but the atmosphere just isn’t there.
Who is the toughest guy in the Big 12 to defend?
I’d probably say Andrew Wiggins at Kansas. I’m sure I’ll end up on him some. That’s going to be a tough matchup for anybody to guard him. He’s a great player. He’s a big-time player.
Who’s the toughest guy in the Big 12 to score on?
Isaiah Austin. His length. He’s a great shot blocker. I know he blocked like six or seven shots a game. And that’s a big. He changes shots for his team. And it’s tough to score on him.
What other coach in the Big 12 could you see yourself playing for?
Bill Self. He’s a great coach. Everybody knows his track record, all that he’s instilled into that program. He knows what he’s doing and he does it well.
Your rise from a dangerous upbringing has become a national story, with details of how you survived in a rugged south Dallas neighborhood, eventually moving across town to blossom and become a big-time recruit. What kind of stuff did you see?
I saw my friends doing all kinds of drugs. Snorting. Smoking. I didn’t even know what it was. Psycho-type stuff. I’ve seen people get jumped and beaten … shot. I’ve seen police chases every day. I’ve seen gang members drive through apartments, while little kids are in the street, don’t give a care; little kids getting hit by cars. I saw my brother sell (drugs) to one of my friends.
How influential was your mother, Camellia, who moved the family out of those surroundings, in not only allowing you to have a basketball future, but in possibly saving your life?
I thank God every day for giving my mom the strength and the confidence to move us. To just drop everything — that’s where all my family was – to go to this place where we had no idea who anybody was or what to expect … she took a chance. That was a great chance she took.
And still, you believe that those early life lessons were good for you?
God does everything for a reason. He doesn’t bring us this far to leave us. For me to go through that, it was what he planned, in order to get me somewhere better and to do something better with my life. That’s exactly the way he planned it. And it worked out the way he wanted it. I definitely think that was a blessing.
Clearly, it’s working out the way you wanted it, too?
Now, I’m a D-I college basketball player at Oklahoma State. I’m living the life that most kids would chop off their right arm for, a paid scholarship to go to college for free. Kids’ parents are out here struggling to get them to college, my mom doesn’t pay anything. It’s a blessing. I thank God every day. I’m doing something productive with my life. My mom, she’s great. She’s really one of my heroes.
What did you learn from your latest international experience, playing on the gold medal Team USA U19 squad in the Czech Republic?
I learned how to be a little more elusive and tricky coming off ball screens and getting in the paint; making better decisions.
What was your reaction when you learned you were one of two college players invited to the Team USA Mini-Camp in Las Vegas, alongside a bunch of NBA pros?
I was ecstatic. It’s a prestigious event to be a part of. And to be one of two college players to go, and not any of the college players drafted this year, it’s an honor indeed to have on my track record as an individual, and for Oklahoma State. I got to go out there and represent my school and my family. I’m blessed. I thank God for giving me the opportunity for being there.
Having experienced a year of college basketball, how much better can you be as a sophomore?
There are no limitations. I’ve just got to work at it and want it. That’s with anybody though; anybody in college basketball. It’s all about how hard you work. I think I can become a pretty good player if I just stay focused, keep my eyes on the right things work hard. I don’t have to wonder what I’m in for any more, like a lot of incoming freshmen. I’ve been through it a year. I’ve been put in the fire in tough games. So I’m used to it and I know what to expect. So nothing will come as a surprise for me.