When Marcus Smart announced he was returning to Oklahoma State last spring instead of entering the NBA draft, it appeared the Cowboys were well positioned to make a deep NCAA tournament run this past season and contend in the Big 12 for years to come.
Oh, how quickly things change.
Not only did Oklahoma State get bounced in the opening round of the NCAA tournament after having to scramble just to make it at all, the Cowboys have also hemorrhaged players to the point that their ability to even be competitive in the Big 12 next season is now in doubt.
The latest to leave is sophomore forward Kamari Murphy, who will transfer according to multiple reports. Murphy's departure ensures Oklahoma State will return no more than three of its top eight players from last season: Senior forward Le'Bryan Nash, undersized sharp shooter Phil Forte and shot-blocking center Michael Cobbins.
Smart entered the NBA draft after his sophomore season. Standout guard Markel Brown and little-used big man Mason Cox exhausted their eligibility. Murphy, fellow starting forward Brian Williams and big man Gary Gaskins are transferring. And point guard heir apparent Stevie Clark was dismissed from the program late in the season for repeated off-the-court issues.
As if that weren't enough, the Cowboys also lost their most prized recruit. Six-foot-3 shooting guard Jared Terrell was released from his letter of intent last month after he decided to remain closer to home because of family issues.
How much coach Travis Ford can be held responsible for all the upheaval is unclear, but it certainly puts the program in a tenuous position entering next season. Even if Nash thrives as a go-to scorer, Forte proves he is more than a spot-up shooter and Cobbins regains his explosiveness following the torn Achilles he suffered in December —all huge ifs — the Cowboys simply don't have much proven talent around them.
Another disappointing season might be enough to jeopardize Ford's job were it not for the bizarre contract that Oklahoma State signed him to a few years ago.
In Sept. 2009, Oklahoma State extended Ford's contract through 2019 and left neither side much wiggle room. Since the university would have to pay him the entirety of his contract were it to fire him and Ford has a hefty $3 million buyout were he to jump to another job, both sides are probably stuck with one-another for at least another couple years unless they were able to renegotiate.
That would be fine if Oklahoma State were thriving. But with an unproven roster, players fleeing in droves and a fan base that wasn't filling up Gallagher Iba Arena even when the Cowboys were playing well in spurts the past two seasons, that's not an ideal situation.
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