The intrigue surrounding this winter's Big 12 title chase increased over the weekend thanks to some respectful but honest comments Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart made about Kansas freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins.
Asked by USA Today about the hype leading up to Wiggins' college debut next month, Smart told the newspaper he draws motivation from the attention lavished on the Kansas freshman.
"They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet," Smart said. "Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can't do it. But he has not done it yet.
"If you work for what you have instead of it being just given to you, people respect you a lot more because you understand what it takes, you’ve been there and done it. No one can just say it was easy because you took it. You didn’t just get it. You took it. So all the power and credit to [Wiggins]. Congratulations for the Sports Illustrated, all the hype, congratulations to him. But that’s definitely a lot of pressure on him."
What makes Smart's comments headline-worthy is the backdrop of the Big 12 title picture. Wiggins, the most decorated member of the star-studded 2013 freshman class will try to lead Kansas to a 10th straight Big 12 crown this winter. Smart, one of college basketball's best returning players, will try to help his highly ranked Oklahoma State team dethrone the mighty Jayhawks.
Smart's comments read as though he's a little annoyed that a freshman who has yet to play a minute in college is already gracing Sports Illustrated covers, shooing away autograph seekers and receiving preseason player of the year accolades. Nonetheless, credit Smart for answering questions about Wiggins honestly while not being inflammatory or providing much bulletin board material.
A few Kansas fans may take offense to Smart's words about Wiggins, but the reality is his comments closely resemble what Kansas coach Bill Self has said about the heralded freshman all offseason.
Self told reporters earlier this month that Wiggins is "not a great player right now, he's a great prospect." Smart told USA Today that the Wiggins hype was based on "all potential" rather than production so far and that he hasn't earned it yet.
Self lamented recently that "People are putting probably expectations on [Wiggins] that would be a lot for any 18-year-old kid. Smart noted that Wiggins is "under a microscope" and that there's a "lot of pressure on him right now."
The only difference between what Self and Smart have said is that the comments do read differently coming from a coach downplaying expectations for his young star versus an opposing player questioning whether Wiggins has earned his preseason hype. It also doesn't help that Smart has already angered Kansas fans once when he did a back flip on the Jayhawks logo at Allen Fieldhouse following Oklahoma State's 85-80 victory in Lawrence last season.
Still, these comments from Smart clearly weren't intended as slight on Wiggins. They just add another layer of intrigue to what should be one of the nation's most anticipated league title races this winter.