Forte Gets His Chance In Allen Fieldhouse

LAWRENCE, KAN. -- Phil Forte doesn't want to play for the Kansas Jayhawks. He never has wanted to. So when the Oklahoma State freshman guard hit four free throws in the final 28 seconds on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse, when he rushed toward his teammates following Oklahoma State's 85-80 upset victory, and when he walked gingerly out of the visitor's locker room, things couldn't have been sweeter.

Why? Because at one time, he was the short white kid who played sidekick to Marcus Smart within KU's recruiting plan. The Jayhawks, like many other schools, showed interest in Forte in hopes they could land his best friend.

"There were some schools that you could tell were sincere about just recruiting me," Forte said in the fall. "I'm not stupid. I know I'm not going to Kansas and play. I just wanted to make sure I was going to go first for myself to play – what was the best place for me."

The best place was Stillwater. By now, that should be obvious. There are few coaches in America who value players like Forte as Travis Ford does. That was on display Saturday, when Ford called upon his true-freshman shooting guard to be the player sent to the free-throw line in game's final moments.

"Coming in, not a lot of people gave us a chance to win this game," Forte said. "For some reason, we believed that we could. We had nothing to lose.

"When the buzzer went off, you can't even express the excitement. That place was dead silent. You could hear a pencil drop. Just to know that all the work and preparation paid off just makes it feel all that sweeter."

In the big picture, Forte had a less than impressive performance on Saturday. He shot 3-of-13 from the field, hitting just one of his eight 3-point attempts. But there was still no other player the Cowboys would have wanted at the line. Forte entered the game making 89 percent of his free throws.

"That kid has a lot of heart," Smart said. "We have a lot of respect for him. He goes out there and plays hard every day. We knew his shots were beginning to fall for him and he came through with some clutch shots."

Smart doesn't throw around the word respect lightly. It's something Forte continues to earn, whether or not people doubt him because of his size.

"What other teams think about me, I could really care less at this point," Forte said. "These guys believe in me. My coaches believe in me. That's the most important thing. I just go out there every day with something to prove – a chip on my shoulder."

And that all goes back to his recruitment at Kansas. Forte never had delusions of playing for the Jayhawks. Now, those memories of feeling disrespected have been replaced with those of knocking off a top-ranked team on their home court.

It doesn't get much better than that.

"It's priceless," Forte said. "To have the opportunity to do that … My teammates believed in me. They gave me the ball to knock down the free throws. I shoot those shots 100 times a day. That's what I do. So I had to step up there and calmly knock them down for my team.

"There's so much history and tradition here. When we walked out of here, the place was silent. It was one of the best feelings I've ever had playing the game."