Marcus Smart leads AP preseason All-America team
By JIM O’CONNELL
A lot of people were shocked when Marcus Smart announced he would return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. Nobody should be surprised the Cowboys point guard was a unanimous selection to The Associated Press’ preseason All-America team.
Smart was on every ballot from the 65-member national media panel Monday, a no-brainer since he was expected to be among the first players chosen if he had declared for the NBA draft. The last unanimous preseason All-America was Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger in 2011-12.
After averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals last season in winning the Big 12 player of year award, it was how the Cowboys fared in the NCAA tournament that had a lot to do with his coming back.
“I felt like we had a lot more to accomplish,” Smart said of the loss to Oregon in Oklahoma State’s opening game of the NCAA tournament. “We were a lot better team than that. That’s just not the way we wanted to go out. It helped me a little bit to get motivated to come back this year.”
Smart was joined on the preseason All-America team by seniors Doug McDermott of Creighton and Russ Smith of Louisville, sophomore Mitch McGary of Michigan and freshman Andrew Wiggins of Kansas.
The 6-foot-4 Smart, who also won the Wayman Tisdale Award as the country’s top freshman, said he’s also coming back to improve on his 1.3-to-1 assist-turnover ratio and his 40 percent shooting from the field, including just 29 percent from 3-point range.
Still, he said the decision to pass up millions of dollars and return to Stillwater was “the most difficult thing in my life.”
McDermott, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year last season after averaging 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, was on all but two ballots. He enters the season with a chance at joining an exclusive group. A two-time first-team All-America, McDermott could become just the 11th player to be a three-time postseason selection and the first since Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Tisdale at Oklahoma from 1983-85.
The 6-8 forward is one four returning starters for the Bluejays and coach Greg McDermott, Doug’s father. Creighton moves to the Big East this season.
“I’m looking at this season as an opportunity to embrace a new challenge,” he said. “We know it’s much more physical and there are a lot more athletes than we’re used to. We’ve prepared ourselves pretty well. We know it’s going to be a grind and we’re looking forward to that.”
The 6-foot Smith, who received 52 votes, averaged 18.7 points and 2.9 assists in helping the Cardinals win the national championship. He won’t have the graduated Peyton Siva with him in the backcourt but coach Rick Pitino will still be calling the shots.
“I realized how much I loved playing with my teammates and how much fun it is to win,” Smith said of returning for his senior year, “and this is part of the purpose of being a national champion. Obviously, I wasn’t a clear cut first-round pick, so coming back was mainly because of coach, my teammates, the Louisville campus, the community, graduating.”
Wiggins, just the second freshman to earn preseason honors since the team was first selected for the 1986-87 season, averaged 23.4 points and 11.2 rebounds as a senior at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep School. He was on 42 ballots and joins Harrison Barnes of North Carolina in 2010-11 as the only freshmen to earn preseason honors.
Wiggins is a member of an outstanding freshman class at Kansas and there aren’t many people who expect him to be a sophomore in Lawrence. The national magazine covers, the constant attention and comparisons to the like of LeBron James haven’t been a problem for the 6-8 Wiggins, whose father Mitchell played at Florida State and in the NBA.
“It kind of grew on me over the years to where I’m used to it,” Wiggins said of the attention. “I just think of it as a blessing. A lot of people don’t get an opportunity to be showcased like that.”
McGary, who averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, caught the country’s attention during the Wolverines’ run to the NCAA title game when he averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. The 6-10 McGary, who received 34 votes, has been slowed by a lower back condition heading into this season.
“Right now I’m day to day — doing stuff on the court, light shooting, limited in what I can do, what they’re allowing me to do,” McGary said last week. “There’s no target date or anything.”
Ohio State guard Aaron Craft was sixth in the voting with 14.
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