After Marcus Smart swished yet another shot, this one a three-pointer unleashed in transition without hesitation, one tall fan sitting courtside could only shake his head. Kevin Durant, watching Smart in person for the first time, then leaned back in his seat so he, like every other slack-jawed fan inside Gallagher-Iba Arena, could appreciate the one-man show. "That is a tough shot to make, and that is a gutsy shot to shoot," Durant told USA TODAY Sports after the game. "But he earned the right to take those shots. Marcus can play in the league right now. Definitely." For this season, the NBA's loss is college basketball's gain. The sophomore exploded for the best offensive performance of his career, dropping in a career-high 39 points and turning what was billed as a toss-up affair with Memphis into a 101-80 rout. In a young season with headlines dominated – and understandably so – by the brilliant efforts of a trio of freshmen nationwide, Smart demonstrated emphatically on national television that a sophomore will also need to be reckoned with all season. "When he scores like that," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said, "he could be the best player in college basketball." This was the first big matchup for Smart since March 21, a date seared in his mind. That was when Smart's electrifying freshman season came to an abrupt end with a loss to 12th-seeded Oregon in the NCAA tournament. He rues his effort in that game almost every day, knowing it was one of the very few times in his life when he felt he wasn't in the game mentally. Erasing that memory with a deep tournament run is one of the prime reasons why Smart postponed his NBA career for a year. And against Memphis – what Smart called "a big statement game" – Smart erupted from the opening tip and knew he could have a special game. In the game's opening seconds, Memphis' Geron Johnson tried to deny him the ball, which surprised Smart. And Smart said Johnson uttered a few words to him, which only provided more fuel. And off he went. A dunk in transition gave Smart 12 points a little more than five minutes into action. Midway though the first half came the ridiculous: Smart scored 12 points in 71 seconds. Smart shot 29 percent from three-point range last season. But during that 71-second stretch, he made three three-pointers and also made three free throws after being fouled on another three-point attempt. In all, Smart made 5 of 10 three-point shots. Walking down a corridor after the game, Pastner only said, "When he is shooting the three like that …" He didn't need to finish the sentence. In describing his offensive performance, Smart was also initially at a loss for words on how it felt to be in such a shooting zone. When pressed, he said, "It's like the Fourth of July. Fireworks going off. An incredible feeling. The basket seems huge, it's like a lake. And whatever you throw up goes in. And when you have that type of confidence, it's kind of hard to stop somebody." Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford knows that when Smart shoots like that from the perimeter, he is very difficult to guard because the shot complements his ability to use his strength to penetrate. "Marcus can give you whatever you need," Ford said. That is why Ford played Smart at times at the point, the power forward position and on the wing. He also had five steals, four rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes. "He was just unbelievable for them tonight," Durant said. "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."
Kevin Durant on Marcus Smart: He can play in the NBA right now
USA Today | Nov 20