Gators' Billy Donovan said fan-shoving incident out of character for Marcus Smart
After coaching Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart for two years as part of the USA U-19 Olympic Basketball team, Florida coach Billy Donovan believes he knows Smart very well.
So when he saw the video of Smart shoving a Texas Tech fan near the end of an emotional road game this past Saturday, Donovan said he immediately knew it was completely out of character from the young man he's coached.
"It's really an unfortunate situation, everything that happened," Donovan said Monday. "Obviously you just sit there and see the replay of it, you know, and you don't know what's said, what happened. Obviously I think as Travis (Ford, Oklahoma State head coach) mentioned, he crossed the line; it's something he shouldn't have done. But I think to echo what Travis said, he is a great kid. I never had one bit of a problem with him, coaching him for the two years with USA. I really was appreciative that he came back the second year and played. I remember the first year we had him, there were a couple of games where we were up by 30, 40 points at halftime. I told him because we had to play five games in a row, I said, 'Marcus I'm not playing you in the second half. 'No problem, coach, whatever I can do to help.' He's always been that kind of kid. What people saw from him in that situation against Texas Tech to me is totally uncharacteristic. I never saw anything like that, ever, coaching him."
On Sunday, Smart was suspended for three games by the Big 12 and publicly apolgized for his behavior. Donovan said while he has no knowledge of exactly what happened, he believes he has some insight into what Smart may be going through this season. He's seen it befor on his own team.
"I will say this, and I saw this happen with Joakim Noah," Donovan said. "You go from a guy that makes the decision to come back and he gets an enormous amount of publicity, he gets an enormous amount of exposure and all of a sudden everything gets into the fact that this is good for college basketball that Marcus Smart’s coming back. Here’s a kid that had a chance to leave. And I don’t know why he came back or why he didn’t go (to the NBA) or what the decision making process, but I had him when the draft was going on and I think for Marcus - and this is my opinion - I don’t know this to be true this is just my feeling - is because he was a top-5 pick a year ago, you feel like you have to play like a top-5 pick, whatever that looks like in his mind. And what happens is you can never reach that level. Whether he thinks he has to score 30 points or have 10 assists, five steals, it’s not gonna happen, but you feel this unbelievable pressure and I saw it with Noah. When Noah came back after his sophomore year, the pressure he felt to perform every game was totally out of control. Him, he made it out of control. And I told Joakim this ‘you cannot allow people to rob you of your happiness playing the game’ and I think in some ways Marcus has allowed some happiness to be robbed from him a little bit in this whole process of coming back, not going, maybe not playing like they want to. Obviously they’ve had some tough losses, they play a tough schedule. He’s the guy and now all of a sudden he goes from four months ago being this unbelievable kid coming back for college basketball to now he’s in a situation where he’s looked upon in a very negative light.
"And I saw it with Joakim. Joakim hit the NCAA tournament as a sophomore like a lightning rod, we were unranked everybody loved the kid, and then once the next year started, he was a complete villain, chest pumping and all that stuff, but he did that since he was a freshman. What happens is that gets very confusing for young guys, and Marcus is a young kid and he’s a competitor, and he wants to win and I think he’s one of those guys that just kind of keep on grinding and there’s no question his emotions got the better of him. But I’m not so sure that this is not, has something to do with the pressure he’s personally put on himself at the level he wants to perform at and the quicker he gets to a place to where he can realize he’s not going to live up to those expectations, that he’s got to do what he can do to help the team, I think the better off he is. I think you saw total frustration from him the last couple of weeks and that to me is just the frustration of a young kid that wants to play better, wants his team to do better and probably didn’t channel it the right way and crossed the line into a really, really poor situation that he really regrets to this day.”