His visit to Las Vegas was brief, but the two days Marcus Smart spent around the USA Basketball men’s national team at the Mendenhall Center in late July left a lasting impression on everyone who watched.
The 6-foot-4-inch Oklahoma State sophomore point guard showed he had the maturity to compete with NBA players, and he appears to have a bright future with the national team. Smart, who is back in town today to lead the No. 7 Cowboys against No. 20 Colorado in the MGM Grand Showcase to benefit Coaches vs. Cancer, is excited about being a regular visitor to Las Vegas for years to come when the national team trains at UNLV prior to international competitions.
“It was a great experience to get a taste of what’s to come,” he said. “Just to be around those players, see how they work and get along, it was an amazing opportunity, and I feel so blessed just to be a small part of it.”
Even before he got to Las Vegas, Smart had played for his country. In 2012, he helped the USA Under-18 team win a gold medal at the FIBA Americas tournament. In early July, Smart was on the gold medal-winning team at the Under-19 world championships in the Czech Republic. His play in Prague convinced USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to bring him to the national team minicamp at UNLV later in the month.
“Marcus Smart is one of the outstanding young players in the country, and there’s no question after watching him in Las Vegas that he fits, both on and off the court,” Colangelo said. “I like his size, his strength, his speed — he’s got the physical tools. He attacks the basket, he’s a pretty good defender, and he’s a well-built player.
“He’s also a good kid of high character, and that’s important too.”
Through his experiences last summer, Smart learned that he doesn’t have to score a lot to be effective.
“Playing with those guys, seeing how they keep their calm and stay under control, I’ve tried to incorporate that into my game,” said Smart, who has averaged 18.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game this season. “We had some talented, talented players play on the 19-and-under team, so I didn’t have to do everything.
“I’d have my moments where I’d force things, but I learned I can rely on my teammates, and I think I’m a more mature player at Oklahoma State.”
Colangelo supported Smart’s decision to return to school for his sophomore year rather than enter the NBA Draft.
“I thought it was a very wise decision,” Colangelo said. “He has a chance to work on his game and develop and mature.”
Smart hasn’t regretted his decision, and he is tracking as a high lottery pick come June, perhaps even the No. 1 selection. But he’s also looking at making sure he secures a spot with USA Basketball.
“They’re not looking for guys who can just do one thing,” he said of the expectations from national team coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They want guys who can do multiple things at any given time — defend, score, rebound. I see that, so I’m trying to adjust my game to fit in.”
He also got good advice from Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers’ outstanding young guard, who befriended Smart at the July minicamp. His advice to Smart was to be himself, work hard, accept the coaching and fit in with the others. He also told Smart to enjoy the moment because so few get to experience it.
Smart also got to meet and chat with Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, who are expected to be two of the cornerstones for the 2014 USA Basketball World Cup team, and they echoed similar comments about working hard and fitting in.
“A lot of players would die to be in my situation,” he said. “So I appreciate this opportunity, and I just want to be ready to make the most of it if it comes next summer.”
Colangelo said the roster of invitees for the 2014 FIBA World Cup training camp in Las Vegas is being cultivated and will be released next month. Don’t be surprised if Smart’s name is on the list.
“Marcus was on our radar a year ago,” Colangelo said, “and he’s still on our radar.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.