WALTHAM, Mass. — It wasn’t so long ago that Marcus Smart was an 18-year-old freshman preparing to begin his collegiate basketball career at Oklahoma State and looking to the Cowboys’ veteran players for guidance.
“(With Smart) being our point guard, I had to tune him up,” fellow Oklahoma State product LeBryan Nash said Monday. “Like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to have to lead us, man.’ I always care about winning, so I always want to see what’s best for my teammate. And what he did — he took that advice and he ran with it.”
Smart went on to become an NBA lottery pick, a second-team All-Rookie selection and the starting point guard of the Boston Celtics. Now, he’s returning the favor.
Nash recently completed his senior season in Stillwater, meaning he was a sophomore when Smart, who left school after two seasons, began his college career in 2012. The 6-foot-7 forward was one of six players in town Monday for a pre-draft workout at the Celtics’ practice facility, and Brad Stevens wasn’t the only one coaching him up.
“We talk all the time,” Nash said of Smart, who watched the session. “We’re good friends off the court. (Sunday) night, he came to my hotel and just talked to me about the NBA, how good it can be for you and how bad it can be for you (depending on) the decisions you make on the court and off the court. He just talked to me about how the style is and what I need to do out here to show the Celtics, ‘That’s the player you need to draft.’ It was great advice he gave me (Sunday) night and (Monday), and he’s just coaching me through it.”
The former teammates’ history together long predates their respective tenures at Oklahoma State. Both grew up in the Dallas area and often squared off on the AAU circuit.
“He’s a player that everyone was talking about back in high school,” Nash said.
Like Smart, whom the Celtics drafted sixth overall last summer, Nash was a highly regarded recruit who expected to make the leap to the pros after a few months of college ball.
“Back in high school, coming out of high school, (I was a) hot head,” he explained. “I thought college was going to be easy for me. I’d be there one year, and I’d be done with it. Be in the NBA. And when I got to college, I learned that everybody is there for a reason. Everybody’s talented.”
Instead, the now-22-year-old stuck around Stillwater for a full four seasons and now finds himself as long shot to hear his name called June 25. That’s why he’s looking to a player nearly two years his junior — a player he says should have been the NBA’s Rookie of the Year this season — for direction.
Smart’s advice? Never settle.
“He just said, ‘Just get better every day,’ ” Nash said. “Every chance you have to step on that court, just try to get better. Leave that court saying, ‘I got better.’ That’s what I do every time I step on the court. I just try to learn something that day.”
Thumbnail photo via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images