Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Kevin Durant arrived late for Marcus Smart’s 39-point outburst Tuesday night — but he may have been the primary motivation for Smart’s career night.
“It was crazy,” Smart said after going for 39 points in No. 7 Oklahoma State’s 101-80 beatdown of No. 11 Memphis on national TV. “Coach [Travis Ford] actually told us that he asked to come to the game, but we thought he was playing around. We were like ‘Kevin Durant? Really? Come on.’ Then we looked on the front row and I was like, ‘Oh, whoa. Wait a minute. Am I dreaming?’ That was an amazing experience to be a part of. We saw Kevin Durant, and we just wanted to put on a show for him.”
Durant, in return, praised Smart, who famously opted to skip becoming potentially the No. 2 pick in this year’s NBA Draft to return to Stillwater for his sophomore season.
“He was just unbelievable for them tonight,” Durant told Eric Prisbell of USA Today. “He was doing it all for them, rebounding, blocking shots, passing, scoring. He led them. I knew he could do everything pretty well. But I like his demeanor. I like how he handles his teammates. A player like him, he always can burst out and get 30 or 40 points.”
Told of Durant’s comments, Smart told USA Today: “That’s amazing. That’s crazy. For someone of his talent, he’s one of the NBA’s greatest, for him to say that, it really means a lot. I am doing something right.”
On a night when the Fab 4 Freshman group of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon all played, Smart had the biggest night of them all, going 12-for-16 from the field and 5-for-10 from deep.
“Obviously, Marcus stood out early and did some great things in this game and he showed why he’s the best player in the country,” Ford said.
“I knew when I let go of my first shot and it went in with the foul, I knew I was going to have a good night,” Smart said. “I was just feeling a good night, and my teammates gave me the ball when I needed it in order to get my shot off. Words can’t even explain. I think this is my first 30-point game in my career, and it’s amazing. It was a great team win out there. Like I said, if it wasn’t for my teammates, I wouldn’t have had 30 points.”
It should be an interesting race for National Player of the Year with the four frosh, Smart and Creighton senior Doug McDermott all in the mix.
Speaking of Wiggins, the first Oklahoma State-Kansas matchup is slated for Jan. 18.
“They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet,” Smart told USA TODAY Sports in October. “Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can’t do it. But he has not done it yet.”
Photo: Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.