Marcus Smart needs to be punished, but were his actions warranted?

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By now, it’s probably old news to you.

Late on Saturday night, Marcus Smart, the star of the No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys, went flying into the expensive seats after trying to prevent a dunk and give the Pokes one last chance to for overtime in a game at Texas Tech.

A fan said something to Smart.

Smart reacted by shoving him.

Twitter blew up, the video of the incident was replayed hundreds of times and, before you knew it, Smart’s shove was the biggest story in all of sports.

There’s two conversations to be had here.

For starters, Smart needs to be suspended. He has to be. There is no way around this. He went into the stands and shoved a fan in response to what a fan said to him. That’s simply unacceptable, and Smart has to accept the punishment. Head coach Travis Ford knows this. Smart, at heart, probably realizes this. The suits running the Big 12 Conference know this. Everyone does.

Basketball games, particularly at the college level, are emotional environments. The fans are sitting right on top of the court, and it’s entirely too easy for something as minor as a shove to turn into a situation as ugly as the Malice at the Palace. The point that no one is making is that a minute after Smart’s shove, the buzzer sounded and Tech won. The fans stormed the court, meaning that an emotionally charged Smart was sharing court space with Red Raider fans.

Am I the only one that realizes how lucky we were that this didn’t turn into some much, much worse?

A point has to be made. There is a line that cannot be crossed, and Smart crossed it.

But that brings me to my larger point: We cannot judge Smart, the person, on this moment.

According to reports, what the fan said to Smart to draw his ire was just about the worst thing that an older white man can say to a young black man. Multiple people at the game and within earshot of Smart claim that he was yelling, “he called me a n*****“.

If you want my honest opinion here, that fan — who has been identified as Jeff Orr, a Texas Tech “superfan” — is lucky that the only thing that happened was a shove. And to a point, I actually give Smart credit here. People are going to fly off the handle about the shove, but before you start calling Smart a thug or say that his reputation is forever tarnished, remember this:

  • Smart is competitive to a fault. He does not handle losing well, and this loss was Oklahoma State’s fifth in the last six games. The Cowboys, picked to be a contender for the Big 12 title in the preseason, are now essentially down to a six-man rotation. Their season is spinning out of control, and there’s not much Smart can do about it.
  • Smart’s played some of the worst basketball of his career during this stretch, and was caught on camera curb-stomping a chair and leaving the bench, throwing a fit in a back hallway, in a win against West Virginia last month.
  • This was the second straight game that Oklahoma State lost in the final possessions. In this one, despite Smart being the lone bright spot for the Pokes, Ford opted to go to Le’Bryan Nash on the last two possessions of the game. Neither resulted in a bucket.

With all that going on, right when he realized that he was probably going to lose yet another game, he was (reportedly) called the N-word by an old white guy … and he didn’t react by throwing a punch or physically assaulting the guy.

He only pushed him.

How many people would have immediately started throwing haymakers in that moment?

If anything, the talking point here should be directed more towards the way that fans behave themselves at sporting events.

There are too many people out there that believe that the simple fact that they bought a ticket allows them to yell whatever they want at a person just because they don’t like the colors of their jersey. Some of those things they say? They’re vile. They would get you fired if you said them in your office and beaten up if you said them to the wrong person.

Why is that OK?

Why do we allow people to turn into cretins when they’re rooting for a sports team? Two hours before Smart went into the stands, an Arizona State fan spit on Oregon players and coaches after a win. How long before this kind of behavior truly does become unacceptable.

Marcus Smart is going to pay the price for his reaction, but that doesn’t mean that what he did was unwarranted.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.