Every sports website currently has some kind of column up about how good Smart was and the fact that a sophomore is finally — finally — gaining some traction in what is bound to be an epic Player of the Year race.
You know who else was impressed? Kevin Durant. He was court side at the game last night, and USA Today’s Eric Prisbell caught up with him afterwards.
“That is a tough shot to make, and that is a gutsy shot to shoot,” Durant told USA TODAY Sports. “But he earned the right to take those shots. Marcus can play in the league right now. Definitely.”
“He was just unbelievable for them tonight,” Durant continued. “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.”
The line that everyone is going to pick out of Prisbell’s column off of the game is that Durant said Smart “can play in the league right now. Definitely.”
The line that is more impressive to me is where Durant lauds his ability as a teammate. I think that is what makes him so special as a player. Look, there’s always going to be another talent coming down the pipeline, and as good as Smart is, he’s not LeBron. He’s not Jordan. He’s not a once-in-a-generation talent.
But he’s a very good basketball player that is willing to do whatever it will take to win, even if it means playing second or third fiddle on a title contender.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.