WALTHAM, Mass. — It was after the lowest moment of Marcus Smart’s basketball career that LeBryan Nash learned just how strong his former college teammate is.
Smart and Nash both were players at Oklahoma State when, during a game at Texas Tech last February, the former shoved a fan sitting behind the basket. Smart was a highly ranked NBA prospect at the time, and the incident and resulting three-game suspension made national headlines.
According to Nash, Smart was despondent on the ride back to Stillwater.
“After it, on the bus, on the ride back home, how bad he felt,” Nash said Monday after completing a pre-draft workout with the Boston Celtics. “Us as teammates, we tell him, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK.’ And he was telling us, ‘No, it’s not. I’m hurting y’all.’ … That’s what I like about him. I really look at people’s character to make them good friends. If I have friends, they’ve got to have good character. For him to say that, think about us instead of yourself, that’s what makes us good friends.
“I ain’t never seen a guy cry in front of (all his teammates). That just tells you how passionate he is about the team, how passionate he is about winning, and how passionate he is about us. That whole bus ride, we couldn’t talk to him, because he just felt bad. … He just expects more of himself, and that’s what you have to have to be a great player.”
Despite the fan altercation hanging over him as a dreaded “character flaw,” Smart was drafted sixth overall by the Celtics and flourished as a rookie, proving himself as a lockdown defender and earning a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie second team. He’s spent the past few weeks working out at the Celtics’ facility and offering advice to some of the prospects passing through, including Nash, who recently completed his senior season with the Cowboys.
Nash was highly complimentary of his old teammate, saying Smart should have won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award and has the potential to be a Hall of Famer.
“I speak highly of him because of what he did this year as a rookie coming into the NBA,” Nash said. “I just try to take advice from him. I asked him so many questions (about) how it is in the NBA: ‘How are practices?’ ‘How are road games, being on the road?’ I just asked him so many questions. I think he got tired of me asking questions, to be honest with you.”
Smart’s debut campaign wasn’t without hiccups — he was one of only eight NBA players to be ejected from multiple games — but nothing came close to matching the controversy of that one night in Lubbock. Nash is confident his good friend learned his lesson.
“I wish he could go back in time, but he learned from it,” Nash said. “That’s the biggest thing. I promise you he won’t make that mistake again.”
Thumbnail photo via Tori Eichberger/Associated Press