By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The package deal is nothing new in college recruiting and will likely never become a thing of the past. Whether it’s getting top-tier twins, or a pair of high school teammates, it can be found in any sport throughout the country.
But when one looks at the scenario as it pertains to Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team, they must look deeper.
The recruitment of high school teammates Marcus Smart and Phil Forte wasn’t one of push to get the “lesser known” in order to land the top-five recruit. For OSU coach Travis Ford and his staff, he wanted both — not simply one with the other coming along for the ride.
“We probably went overboard to let all parents on both sides, and the coaches, know that I’m recruiting these guys separately. I’m recruiting Phil Forte because I want him and I need him and yea, we want Marcus, too — he just happens to be your teammate,” Ford said. “Then we went over to Marcus and say, ‘Hey, we want you whether we get Phil Forte or not.’ I think they saw the versatility in how we play and the need for both of them and they were comfortable with that.”
It was that approach that ultimately worked in Oklahoma State’s favor. The fact that the coaching staff wanted Forte, a three-star shooting guard, just as much as Smart, the top shooting guard in the class of 2012, showed in the recruiting process for the Flower Mound, Texas, natives.
“Everybody knows who Marcus is, but I felt coach Ford and the coaching staff wanted me just as much as him and that’s what sold me,” Forte said.
“That definitely effected him a lot more. And I think that’s what kind of drew me here also,” Smart said. “Before, me and Phil weren’t even thinking about going to school together. ... But then we got to thinking, we accomplished some many things in high school together, why not keep going with it in the next level.
“And actually, when we came here for the visit, it was more about Phil as a person and not as a duo — like if Phil comes, we can get Marcus. They were like if we don’t get Marcus, we still want you. And that kind of put things into perspective that this coaching staff is real honest about things.”
Now the high school teammates will get the chance to begin their college basketball careers still as teammates. The duo will officially start their season against UC-Davis at 8 p.m. Friday in the season opener at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
While both players have the talent to play in the Big 12 Conference, one of the top conferences in the country, they also bring in something to OSU that the Cowboy program needs — a history of winning.
Smart and Forte propelled Marcus High School to back-to-back state championships to cap off their prep careers. And it was Forte, not the highly touted Smart, who was the MVP in their run to the state title their senior season.
“That was an amazing experience,” Forte said. “Just to win one and win it with your best friend, is another feeling. Hopefully we can bring that success from high school onto the college level. Obviously it’s a whole different game and different world up here, but hopefully we can try to carry it up here, too.”
Both players said the transition from high school to college has been easier having each other around.
“Having him here with me helps me a lot because we came in here knowing each other,” Smart said. “Most guys come to college not knowing anybody and have to get to know people. Having a person you’ve already established that with, it just makes a big difference — especially in college.”
The pair of freshmen live together as roommates in Stillwater and have gotten the chance to learn even a little more about their long-time friend.
“Especially knowing him so long, we’re actually like brothers,” Smart said. “We fight a lot or argue about brotherly stuff — turning the light off or forgetting to pick shoes up in the living room. He’s more of the clean freak and he likes the place really, really cold. I think that’s probably why we got sick. But it’s great.”