By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Phil Forte was caught off guard when Marcus Smart filled in his high school teammate and Oklahoma State University basketball teammate and roommate about his decision to stay in Stillwater another year instead of opting for the NBA Draft.
Smart had just returned from the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards banquet in Oklahoma City where he received the national Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year trophy when the two hopped in the vehicle to go to a local restaurant — at which time Smart sprung the news.
“I got in the car and he asked me when I was going home for summer and I told him probably in May after my finals,” Forte said. “And then he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be coming back with you.’ I was just kind of like, ‘Wait. What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m coming back next year.’ That’s how I found out was that night after the banquet.”
Forte, and the rest of the Cowboy basketball team, were all smiles during Wednesday’s press conference when the trio of Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash — OSU’s top three scorers this past season — announced their decisions to return for another year.
For Forte, the return of Smart — who was projected to be a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft by most experts — has more meaning than for the rest of the Cowboy team. While Smart has created a bond with his OSU teammates — which was a big part of his decision to stay — the bond he and Forte share goes beyond basketball.
“It’s amazing. ... I’m just excited. I have the opportunity to play another year with him,” Forte said. “But that’s not the only thing I’m looking forward to — not just playing basketball with him another year, but I get to spend another year with the kid. That’s something I’m looking forward to the most.”
Smart said his roommate didn’t necessarily push for the potential top 5 pick to return for a second season in Stillwater.
“To be honest, Phil kind of told me to go,” Smart said. “... He told me if I have a chance to do, then do it. It was obviously hard for him to let that go, we’d played together since third grade and have accomplished many things — AAU championships, back-to-back state championships (in high school). But he’s my biggest supporter through all this, besides my family, and that’s why we’re so close.”
Forte said it would be selfish for him to make an agenda to have his teammate and friend return for his sophomore season. While Smart did ask for Forte’s input, the freshman shooting guard said he didn’t try to steer Smart one way or the other.
“We talked about it and I tried not to get too involved too much. I just kept telling him to do what’s best for him, his family and I’d understand either way,” Forte said. “I wasn’t going to sit there and tell him to come back because as his friend, that’s not something a friend would do — it would be me being selfish, as much as I want to continue playing with him.
“So I just gave him my opinions, pros and cons, and he made the decision himself. But, obviously, I’m thrilled he came back and I’m excited for another year with him.”