STILLWATER - Marcus Smart rotates answers when asked why he delayed millions of dollars to stay at Oklahoma State.

He wanted to enjoy being a kid for another year.

He was worried an injured wrist would set him back in preparing for a career in the NBA.

And one more reason: Smart regrets last season ending one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament and wasn't ready to be one-and-done in a Cowboy uniform.

"I didn't think me nor the team gave it our all against Oregon," Smart said. "It left a disgusting taste in my mouth. We haven't even watched the Oregon video yet, and I'm pretty sure Coach is doing that for a reason because he knows how disgusted we are about it and he knows how hyped it's going to get us when we look at it.

"We're going to look at it and be, like, 'That was the team that came out and played that night?' It's just going to motivate us to play every game and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Smart does not list specific goals for what he's already announced will be his final season in Stillwater, and his teammates also avoid championship talk.

The absence of the C-word originates with Travis Ford, who assigned homework in the offseason. During a team dinner at Ford's home the night before practice began, he had groups of players give presentations on the six Final Four squads in school history — who was on the roster, where they were from, who they beat.

"We wanted them to learn about the tradition but also the championship-type teams," Ford said. "... We've talked a lot about trying to get to that point, trying to get our guys throughout the summer and a little bit of preseason thinking in terms of trying to motivate them to win a championship."

The Cowboys talked a lot about championships that evening, but not since.

"Once the night was over, I told our guys, 'Now we're done talking about it,' " Ford said. "I don't want to talk any more about it. I don't want to pinhole it.

"I don't want to say, that's it. Then it becomes such a pressure situation. You don't want to pinhole a championship."

But a certain level of expectation remains. The team comes in tied for No. 8 in the national rankings and is a co-favorite to win the Big 12 Conference title.

Smart is the first to remind media that the Cowboys haven't done anything yet. But at least a temporary return to national prominence is tied to the return of the team's unselfish floor general, who's already racking up preseason accolades and projected to be a lottery pick in 2014.

"What (Smart staying) means for our team is we've got a great leader, a guy that we can count on every single day doing it the same way," Ford said. "And, yes, he's a good basketball player and all that, but his leadership is tremendous."

Said teammate Markel Brown: "He's becoming more of a vocal leader on this team. He was a freshman last year and kind of took a backseat to some of the older guys as far as talking it up in practice and stuff.

"He's a great leader and he shows it a lot in his actions, but now he's going to be more vocal on this team. He's going to be demanding a lot of us."

Smart's fans outside of Payne County include opposing coaches, who consistently deliver high praise, and NBA scouts — at least one is at practice every day — who don't leave the arena disappointed.

"I tell them, 'Well, you're about to see the hardest working guy you've ever seen, and he's going to be the loudest guy in here, and it's going to be from the beginning of practice to the end of practice,' " Ford said. "... And I wouldn't believe that. But verbatim after every practice: 'You're right.' "

No one claims Smart is perfect. He has areas in which he can improve. But his ability to better those around him — a team that includes other key cogs — could make this a special season for OSU.

And if he winds up hurt or doesn't carry the Cowboys to the Big 12 title and the Final Four, there will be those who say Smart made the wrong decision.

"I'm the one who has to live with my choice," he said. "They can say whatever they want, but it's not going to change my mind. At the end of the day, they're not in my shoes."


OSU ROSTER

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wgt. Cl. Hometown
1 Ford Stuen G 6-3 190 So. Henderson, Ky.
2 Le'Bryan Nash W 6-7 235 Jr. Dallas
4 Brian Williams W 6-5 210 RS-Jr. Baton Rouge, La.
5 Stevie Clark G 5-11 175 Fr. Oklahoma City
12 Jackson Perez G 6-1 180 Fr. Emporia, Kan.
13 Phil Forte G 5-11 185 So. Flower Mound, Texas
14 Marek Soucek P 7-0 240 Jr. Brno, Czech Republic
15 Christien Sager W 6-4 205 Jr. Wichita Falls, Texas
20 Michael Cobbins P 6-8 230 RS-Jr. Amarillo, Texas
21 Kamari Murphy P 6-8 220 So. Brooklyn, N.Y.
22 Markel Brown W 6-3 190 Sr. Alexandria, La.
23 Leyton Hammonds W 6-7 205 Fr. North Richland Hills, Texas
24 Alex Budke G 6-2 190 Jr. Stillwater
30 Jeffrey Carroll W 6-6 205 Fr. Rowlett, Texas
33 Marcus Smart G 6-4 220 So. Flower Mound, Texas
34 Gary Gaskins P 6-10 200 Jr. Beaufort, S.C.
53 Mason Cox P 6-10 230 RS-Sr. Highland Village, Texas

Head coach: Travis Ford

Associate head coach: Butch Pierre

Assistant coach: Chris Ferguson, Steve Middleton


2013-14 OSU SCHEDULE

Nov. 8: vs. Miss. Valley State 7 p.m.

Nov. 12: vs. Utah Valley 7 p.m.

Nov. 15: vs. Ark.-Pine Bluff 7 p.m.

Nov. 19: vs. Memphis 7 p.m.

Nov. 25: at South Florida 6 p.m.

Nov. 28: vs. Purdue * 11 a.m.

Nov. 29: vs. Butler/Wash. St.* TBD

Dec. 1: vs. TBD * TBD

Dec. 6: vs. South Carolina # 8:30 p.m.

Dec. 14: vs. Louisiana Tech $ 1 p.m.

Dec. 17: vs. Delaware State $ 7 p.m.

Dec. 21: vs. Colorado @ 10:30 p.m.

Dec. 30: vs. Robert Morris 6 p.m.

Jan. 4: at Kansas State 3 p.m.

Jan. 8: vs. Texas 8 p.m.

Jan. 11: at West Virginia 3 p.m.

Jan. 15: vs. TCU 7 p.m.

Jan. 18: at Kansas 3 p.m.

Jan. 25: vs. West Virginia 1 p.m.

Jan. 27: at Oklahoma 8 p.m.

Feb. 1: vs. Baylor 1 p.m.

Feb. 3: vs. Iowa State 8 p.m.

Feb. 8: at Texas Tech 8:30 p.m.

Feb. 11: at Texas 6 p.m.

Feb. 15: vs. Oklahoma 1 p.m.

Feb. 17: at Baylor 8 p.m.

Feb. 22: vs. Texas Tech 12:30 p.m.

Feb. 24: at TCU 6 p.m.

March 1: vs. Kansas 8 p.m.

March 3: vs. Kansas State 8 p.m.

March 8: at Iowa State 1 p.m.

March 12-15: Big 12 Tournament, Sprint Center, Kansas City. Mo.

* Old Spice Classic in Kissimmee, Fla.

# Big 12/SEC Challenge

$ All-College Classic, OKC

@ MGM Grand Showcase