Can you describe what kind of season Phil Forte has had so far?
“He’s had a great season. You know he shot 51 percent last year from the 3-point line and he was facing lockdown defense. His percentage has dropped to right at 48 percent this year. That’s horrible isn’t it, when you drop to 48 percent?
“In all honesty, he’s been a better shooter this year because the lockdown defense he’s faced this year has been against a national schedule against a totally different type of athlete. Phil is the game plan every night for opposing coaches, even more than Marcus. I think he starts everyone’s defensive gameplan because they know if he goes off: game over. Their first priority is to lock Phil down and he now has 101 made 3’s. I believe he made 141 last year. I noticed a few games ago that compared to this point in the season last year he has shot 77 fewer 3’s and there are two reasons for that. First, we are a little more balanced and talented overall so the scoring is more evenly distributed, which is good. The second reason is that we’ve had so many blowouts. He and Marcus aren’t even on the court in the fourth quarter.”
Where have you seen Phil make the biggest strides this year?
“This year he can shoot a pure jump shot. In the past he just shot a modified set shot, which has a super quick release. It’s highly overrated that you have to shoot a jump shot. The quickness he releases his shot with and its accuracy is far more important than how you release it. That said, he can shoot a real jumper now and it’s been a nice addition to his game.
Where will Forte help Oklahoma State the most?
“He never stops working on his game. Where he will really help OSU other than the obvious shooting ability is his work ethic. It is legendary around here. He makes 600 3’s a day and when we won state last year he took two or three days off and his dad told me those were the first days he’d taken off since two Christmases ago. He doesn’t take days off. If you’re looking for a gym rat, there you go.
“That mentality gets contagious and it happens here. Phil will go in to get some shots and inevitably there will be two or three guys who join him. Marcus’ leadership is more verbal and example; Phil’s is almost purely example. He’s a pretty quiet kid. He’s fiery on the court but pretty quiet overall.”
Obviously this hasn’t been a dream season for Oklahoma State on the court but the players have shown growth lately behind a strong, young core. Is it a better situation for your guys to come in to than it looks on the surface?
“I believe in coach Ford. I’ve always said, ‘You can’t out coach injuries.’ You can’t do it. Not only has he had injuries, there have been defections and we all know the story. Everything that can go wrong with a team has gone wrong. Coach Ford, whether people want to admit it now or not, is doing all the right things to build a national power.”
How much could Marcus impact Oklahoma State as freshmen?
“I’ll put it to you this way, when Roy Williams was recruiting Marcus to North Carolina he told me — and whether he’s talking to the recruit or the coach he’s brutally honest about playing time — he said, ‘I’ll tell you this about Marcus Smart, I don’t know what position we’re going to play him at because he can play so many but I do know this: there is no way we can keep him off the court at North Carolina.’ That’s a direct quote.
“I sound like a proud coach and I am but I’m also a realist. There is no way in hell OSU can keep him off the court. Whatever he’s doing in practice, whatever drill he’s doing, he’s going to line up and kick the guy’s butt in front of him. I can guarantee you that. Whatever game they play, he’s going to line up and kick the other guy’s butt, too. He has that special quality about him when it comes to winning games. You won’t be able to believe him until you see him.”
You guys are obviously gearing up for another run at state to defend your title. Are you feeling good at this point?
“Well we have a big target on our back. We’re everyone’s Super Bowl. When we lost to Richland you should have seen them go nuts. You would have thought they’d won the Final Four. That comes with the territory, obviously. In 1999 my team won state and we were fortunate enough to repeat in 2000 but it was the same then as it is now; we had everybody’s ‘A’ game every night. We have a big target on our back but the kids are ready for the challenge.”