Their boot camp complete, the participants in the USA Basketball men’s national team mini-camp dispersed Friday, heading into what’s left of the offseason. Some have vacation plans, others have contractual obligations that will land them in exotic ports that only look like vacation destinations. Most will be back in the gym in a matter of weeks, if not days.
None will head to the NBA’s rookie orientation program.
Marcus Smart will head back to campus.
Maybe it’s not an indictment – yet another, one might say, considering the “weak” criticism leveled for the past few months – of the NBA’s 2013 Draft Class that none of the players selected participated in the week of USA Basketball workouts and scrimmages in Las Vegas. (Eight members of the 2012 Class were there, by the way.)
But it certainly was a credit to Smart, who earned his invitation with his play in FIBA’s U19 World Championships in Prague earlier this month. Smart was the youngest player at the camp this week and, with Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott, one of only two collegians. The 6-foot-4 Smart will be back at Oklahoma State this season, after his surprise decision to skip the Draft in favor of his sophomore year in college.
Looking down from an NBA vantage point, it looks to be a risky, poorly calculated choice. Beyond the 12 months he’ll wait before cashing in and the millions of dollars he might jeopardize with a serious injury, Smart’s stock might dip in a deeper 2014 talent pool compared to this year, when he might have gone in the top three.
But that half-empty approach isn’t Smart’s, who sees only good things coming from a return to Stillwater, strong runs through the Big 12 and the NCAA tournament and another season of development, particularly with hot prospect Andrew Wiggins providing constant motivation so close at Kansas. His freshman numbers — 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 40.4 field-goal percentage (29.0 from 3-point range) — surely can improve.
Then there’s the separation from the 2013 draft pack Smart got this week, playing on a court – with more than summer pick-up game intensity – against the likes of Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard and other young NBA bright lights. Neither Smart nor McDermott competed in the Blue-White Showcase Thursday night that was carried on NBA TV. But our NBA.com’s Siskel & Ebert of USA hoops, John Schuhmann and Sekou Smith, gave the Oklahoma State guard thumbs-up from his practice play.
So did Travis Ford, Smart’s OSU coach who attended the camp. The Cowboys coach isn’t exactly impartial but based on what he told Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman, Ford did like what he saw as Smart went against the aforementioned, as well as John Wall, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley and Kemba Walker.
“Oh, he was terrific. I think he was a little nervous at first, not knowing exactly what to expect and being one of only two college players and wanting to earn their respect. But he got out there and, man. They did a little practicing, a little bit of going through offenses and defenses early, but once they started playing, he was terrific. Just competing like he does with us every day and his strengths were the same. He was getting steals, physically imposing himself, competing, rebounding, defending, started out making a three. He more than fit in. I know I’m a little bias (laughs), but I thought he was one of the better players out there.”
By the way, there was a time here at HTB when underclass players were treated like George Carlin‘s Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. Redaction ruled, lest someone think the pros were warbling siren songs to the young guys. But Smart already has made it clear he’s submitting his name for the 2014 draft (“Nothing will change my mind on that. [Oklahoma State] understands. They didn’t figure I was coming back this year.”)
The Class of 2013 will have a year’s head start by the time Smart arrives. But given his skills, his thoughtful return for another year on campus and his USA Basketball opportunities this month, he won’t be a year behind.