As the rest of college basketball parceled out blame from Saturday night's altercation between Marcus Smart and a Texas Tech fan, the Oklahoma State star was clear about who he believes is at fault.
"I take full responsibility," Smart said at a press conference Sunday evening in Stillwater. "This is not me. I really do apologize for it. Like I said, I take full responsibility and the consequences that come with it."
The consequences for Smart will be meaningful but not season-ending. The Big 12 announced Sunday evening that the sophomore guard has been suspended for his team's next three games because he violated the league's sportsmanship policy when he entered the first row of the stands late in Saturday's game and shoved Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr in the chest.
"Such behavior has no place in athletics, and will not be tolerated," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. "I appreciate the efforts of Oklahoma State University athletics director Mike Holder in addressing this matter, and believe this is an appropriate response to an inappropriate action."
Neither Smart nor Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford would address what Orr said that incited the sophomore guard after he crash-landed on the baseline hustling down court to foul Texas Tech's Jaye Crockett. Orr released a statement via Texas Tech on Sunday in which he apologized for calling Smart "a piece of crap" but insisted he "did not use a racial slur of any kind."
In addition to Orr's statement, Texas Tech released previously unheard audio and video of the incident from a baseline camera angle. It's difficult to hear much of anything clearly, but the words "piece of crap" do seem to be audible around the 18-second mark.
Orr, a 1983 graduate of Texas Tech dubbed the school's most-devoted fan, has made the trek from Waco to Lubbock for years to attend most home basketball games. According to Texas Tech's statement, Orr has voluntarily agreed to not attend anymore Red Raiders basketball games for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
In a lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters after Smart made his statement, Ford acknowledged his star player made a "big mistake" but expressed hope the future NBA lottery pick will learn from this incident. Ford also said he doesn't believe the altercation should define Smart's Oklahoma State career.
"I know Marcus Smart," Ford said. "I've been around him for two years. Undoubtedly last night was not one of his finer moments, but Marcus Smart has had many great moments as a person and as a player. I know Marcus Smart's heart. I know how he's hurting. I know how regretful he is right now. Those are the things that make me love Marcus Smart."
It's difficult to evaluate Smart's three-game suspension based on the precedent set by prior incidents because the penalties have varied so widely.
At one end of the spectrum is the NBA's draconian 73-game suspension of Ron Artest for brawling with fans in Detroit after a cup of water was thrown in his direction. At the other end of the spectrum is an incident in Stillwater 12 years ago in which Texas apologized but received no suspensions after several of its players tussled with a fan upset that guard T.J. Ford had accidentally collided with his pregnant wife.
Oklahoma State (16-7, 4-6) should be grateful the suspension wasn't more severe because three games without its best player will be damaging enough.
A Cowboys team once expected to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title has already lost five of its last six to slip out of contention for the league championship and into the middle of the pack in arguably the nation's toughest conference. Smart will sit at Texas, at home against Oklahoma and at Baylor, three games against opponents in NCAA tournament contention.
Given that Oklahoma State has already lost starting center Michael Cobbins to an Achilles injury and dismissed top freshman Stevie Clark for team rules violations, the Cowboys don't have much proven depth to lessen the impact of Smart's absence. They'll have to lean on Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash to avoid slipping to 4-9 in the Big 12 if they can't win at least one game without their star.
That would be tough for Oklahoma State to swallow, but Ford sees one silver lining: He believes Smart will be a better person because of this ordeal.
"I'm extremely confident, because I do know Marcus Smart, that when he comes back, he's going to gain everyone else's trust who he's lost and try to prove himself every single day," Ford said. "Marcus has my full support, my unwavering support. I do know his heart and I do know how he's feeling right now. And I do know he knows he made a mistake."
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