Markel Brown expected to lead, expand game

Nine months ago, Marcus Smart and Phil Forte watched on TV as Oklahoma State took on No. 2 Missouri in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys' first offensive possession resulted in a Markel Brown dunk, posterizing a Tiger defender en-route to an upset victory.

"We were just like, ‘wow,'" Smart said. "That kind of sparked us. We couldn't wait to get here."

At that time, Brown was becoming known as an incredible dunker and founding member of the "Lob Stilly" movement. Almost to a fault, he was being pegged as simply, athletic.

Meanwhile, Smart was gearing up to arrive in Stillwater. And when he stepped into the gym last summer, he brought something to challenge Brown – a level of physicality on defense that has forced Brown to become a more well-rounded player. After a long offseason, Brown wants people to know he can do more than dunk.

"I love the Lob Stilly thing, I feel like it opened doors for me," Brown said. "But hopefully now that they have seen the Lob Stilly part, now they can see the shooting that has improved over the offseason and my defense that has improved."

The progression started with full-court, one-on-one drills. Before the Cowboys' went to Spain, head coach Travis Ford intentionally matched up Brown and Smart.

"Going against Marcus, you better have your hard hat on," Ford said. "Marcus just doesn't stop."

The pair battled in practice, with Smart saying that two nearly "came to blows" at times because of the extra aggression. Ford said that extra intensity helped Brown to have such a successful campaign in Spain. Brown led the team in scoring, with 18 points per game while shooting more than 50 percent from the field. And on defense, he recorded eight steals, including four in one game.

Brown believes that with the help of Smart's pesky defense during practice, he's been challenged to elevate his game. And extra time on his outside shot has paid dividends.

"It helped me out a lot," Brown said. "When he first got in and we started going at each other, (Smart) was kind of getting the best of me. And I don't like that, so I had to come back at him … we've been playing really physical against each other ever since then. It's kind of like a battle to see who will win for the day."

But that doesn't mean we can expect Brown to stop adding to his collection of ridiculous dunks this season. Smart has seen Brown's progression as a defender. He's also seen him sky high.

"The stuff that we saw him doing on SportsCenter, he was doing in practice," Smart said. "It's amazing, the things that he can do."

As the starting shooting guard, and with the season-ending injury to teammate Brian Williams, the pressure is on Brown to lead the Cowboys in many ways this season.

"I reminded him of this the other day – I know you haven't started your junior year yet, but you're the most experienced player on our team," Ford said. "You've almost got to act like a senior. We saw glimpses of that experience and maturity hopefully coming to the top with him."

Brown averaged 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds last season while recording 41 steals. He said he's learned a lot over the past two seasons and believes this group has what it takes to compete for the conference title.

"Right now we're trying to have a good regular-season Big 12 record and after that it's Big 12 Champs," Brown said. "If we get that, the sky is the limit."

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