As Oklahoma State prepares to celebrate the opening of a highly anticipated season Friday night the reigning Big 12 player of the year and the league's preseason player of the year finds himself overshadowed in his own conference by the hype surrounding an 18-year-old yet to play a college game. Marcus Smart who postponed an NBA career for a year to return for his sophomore season with the Cowboys says he is very much motivated by – and not the least bit envious of – all of the attention garnered by Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins the most heralded gem in a distinguished class of freshmen sprinkled throughout the country this season. Smart has heard all about Wiggins being called the best high school prospect since LeBron James and the best freshman to enter the sport --- former high school phenoms James Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett skipped college --- in a generation. "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. "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." The regular season matchups between Kansas and Oklahoma State – Jan. 18 in Lawrence March 1 in Stillwater – will carry significant Big 12 title and NCAA seeding ramifications. But Smart says that stretches of the two games depending upon lineups and other factors should feature the undisputed marquee one-on-one matchup of the college basketball season – one matchup Smart says that all fans nationwide are eager awaiting. At 6-foot-4 Smart wants nothing more than an opportunity to guard the sinewy 6-8 Wiggins. "Definitely" Smart says. "I am not going to back down from any challenge. Like I said you are going to have to prove to me. I am a fighter; I will keep fighting and will never give up." In Smart and Wiggins the Big 12 possesses two of the top five college players in the nation two players who could have been lottery picks in the NBA draft this past June – Smart had he declared Wiggins had he been eligible for the draft pool. Neither one says he wants or needs the spotlight. Wiggins in fact says he admires pros like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose specifically because they let their games speak louder than their words. And at times at Huntington Prep (W.Va.) Wiggins appeared uncomfortable with all the attention. But the media has not manufactured the Wiggins hype. It began to escalate in July 2012 when Wiggins outplayed current Kentucky freshmen Julius Randle in a head-to-head matchup at Nike's Peach Jam event in front of hundreds of college coaches. Coaches gushed about Wiggins' athleticism and potential. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford this week called him the best high school prospect he can ever recall watching. The 19-year-old Smart meantime is one of the sport's most respected players because of his leadership ability winning attitude and blue-collar approach to practice and games. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim says he was as valuable to his respective team as anyone player in the nation last year. "Wherever he goes [in the NBA] he will go down as one of the all-time great players and people to ever play in that organization" Ford says. "Guarantee it write it down. They are going to say he's the greatest guy to ever come to this organization. I get to be around him for two years and I feel very lucky. Some coach will get to be around him for seven eight nine and they are going to be really fortunate." When Smart was asked who aside from himself is the best college player this season he said he did not know because the freshmen had not played a game yet and college is "definitely a different game." When asked to name the best returning player aside from himself Smart said Creighton's Doug McDermott who Smart believes is underrated. Smart says he respects Wiggins' talents calling him a "great player." But Smart questions the purpose and the amount of the hype that Wiggins has been awash in for more than a year and wants no part of it. "I wouldn't say he is overrated" Smart says. "I would just say there is a lot of pressure on him right now. He is under a microscope from the world that is bigger than anybody would think bigger than he knows. Whatever he does will be magnified times a million just because of the hype. Whatever he says does however he acts." Smart who visibly has added upper body muscle since last season is one of the most prominent faces of the sport this season and was one of only two non-NBA players – McDermott the other – to participate in the USA Men's National Team mini-camp in Las Vegas in July. But he still exhibits the work ethic and attitude of someone fighting for a starting spot.
Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart eyes Kansas' Andrew Wiggins
USA Today | Oct 21