No one needs tell Marcus Smart about the money he left on the table.
You don't pass up a chance to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft without having thought long and hard about the dollars and cents involved in a possible life-changing decision.
"I'm aware of how much money I'm giving up," Smart said. "It's a lot of money, but I feel like I made the right decision."
Smart found himself weighing options that, a year ago, many folks in Stillwater probably never batted an eye about. Sure, they knew the 6-foot-4, 220-pound guard from Flower Mound, Texas, was going to be good.
Maybe even star-quality good.
But Big-12-player-of-the-year good?
Smart had the kind of freshman season that can make a dream come true in an instant. All it would have taken is for some NBA team to utter his name on draft day, and he would have had more money than 19-year-olds can even dream about.
Like another young man up the road in Omaha, Smart showed the college basketball world that it's not always just about the money.
Doug McDermott, a few years older than Smart, faced a similar springtime decision.
McDermott decided to return to Creighton for his senior year, partly because there is some unfinished business to take care of this season.
Led by McDermott, the Bluejays played into the third round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons. He wants to try to take Creighton farther his last time around.
That the Cowboys were a fourth seed in last season's tournament but lost to Sweet 16-bound Oregon also figured into Smart's decision.
"All my life I've been a winner," Smart said. "Back-to-back state championships and to come in and finally make the NCAA Tournament is something I had been waiting for all my life.
"This team felt like we had a lot more to accomplish and we were a better team than that. That is not the way we wanted to go out, and it helped motivate me a little more to come back."
Sometimes it takes a person who has been through a similar experience to fully appreciate a young man's reasoning. Florida's Billy Donovan coached Smart each of the past two summers with the United States' under-18 and under-19 national teams.
"I know a lot of people said he made a mistake," Donovan said. "But he's a great kid, and at the end of the day, he has to do what makes him happy. It was great for college basketball. And I'm sure it made Travis Ford happy, too."
Smart wasn't the only Cowboy to wrestle with the stay-or-go decision. Junior forward Le'Bryan Nash and senior guard Markel Brown also considered turning pro.
All three decided to return, which makes Oklahoma State a front-runner for the Big 12 title.
With those three, slick-shooting guard Phil Forte and most of the other key contributors from a season ago, the outlook is awfully bright in Stillwater.
"We had a great season last year," said Forte, who set an Oklahoma State freshman record for 3-point baskets last season. "But it didn't end the way we wanted it to. That's something in the back of our mind."
Smart and Forte were teammates at Flower Mound, where they helped their school compile a 115-6 record and win two state championships.
As a freshman, Smart led Oklahoma State in scoring (15.4) and assists (4.2) while finishing tied for second in rebounding (5.8). He also led the Big 12 in steals with 99 (3.0 average).
"I don't know that we've played against anybody who controlled the game from the point-guard position like he did," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "It probably hasn't happened since we played against Jason Kidd. He totally controls the game. He's got such a great will."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said, "Marcus Smart is as good a player as there is in the country. He does so many things that impact winning."
Smart's coach knows that better than anyone.
Yet Ford did his best while Smart was juggling options in his mind to stay as neutral as possible. Ford did the same with Brown and Nash while knowing how much better his team would be if they returned.
"We basically gave them as much advice and counseling as possible," Ford said. "We basically let them make their decision either way."
In Smart's case, the coach advised him to do some additional thinking even after Smart told him he had made a decision.
"Marcus said to me, ‘Coach, I think I know what I want to do,'" Ford said. "I didn't even ask him what it was. I told him to talk to his mom and dad and to let me know. When he said, ‘Coach, I want to stay,' he was excited about it. I could see that he was excited.
"I told him to sleep on it, and I called him back the next morning and asked him if he was sure. He said ‘yes.' Then I asked him to come see me later in the day, and I asked him again. That's when I knew he was sure."
Smart got a chance later in the summer to get some reinforcement for his decision. He and McDermott were the only two collegiate players invited the U.S. national team's minicamp in Las Vegas in late July.
Both players held their own in practice games against some of the NBA's best young talent. Both players left a lot of money on the table, but the Vegas experience showed them it will be there in a year when they're ready to come out on their own terms.
"I am a good player, and my confidence and self-esteem are high because I'm competing with these guys, so I know I can compete with anybody in the country," Smart said.
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