The Final Act: Forte And Smart

Phil Forte and Marcus Smart

Phil Forte and Marcus Smart have won 160 basketball games as teammates the past five seasons. The two longtime teammates would like to add at least two more to that victory total this weekend as Oklahoma State plays in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament, beginning with its second-round matchup against Gonzaga at approximately 3:40 p.m. Friday (Central time) in San Diego.

Forte and Smart arrived in Oklahoma State two years ago after playing on the same basketball teams together since the third grade, including a three-year stretch at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas in which they won 115 of 121 games and back-to-back Texas Class 5A state championships.

The pair are 45-20 the past two seasons at OSU, meaning their teams have won 86 percent of their games (160-26) since their sophomore years in high school.

But the Forte-Smart era will soon come to an end after hundreds of games and thousands of practices over the last 12 years. The next Cowboys loss – or, for the optimistic OSU basketball fan, after six consecutive wins in the NCAA tourney over the next three weeks which would result in the school's first national basketball title since 1946 – in all likelihood will be the last time the two play on the same team together in an organized basketball game.

Smart, the 6-4 point guard, returned to OSU for his sophomore season despite assurances that he would have been one of the first three players selected in last year's NBA Draft. But the 20-year-old (his birthday was March 6) has made it clear since last summer that this would be his final season of college basketball. OSU even let him join Markel Brown and Mason Cox in being recognized at Senior Day on March 3 in the Cowboys final home game of the season against Kansas State.

"It's coming to an end here shortly," said Forte, one of four Cowboys averaging in double figures. "I think (Marcus is) just trying to enjoy it all, soak it all in. He's not going to know when his last game is so he's going to go out there have fun and enjoy being a college basketball player for a little longer."

Forte and Smart want to make one final run as teammates, giving OSU fans something to remember other than thoughts of a season many thought would have been different. Head coach Travis Ford's team climbed to as high as fifth in the national polls before things went south in February and came to an end with an eighth-place Big 12 finish after a seven-game losing streak (the longest by an OSU men's basketball team since 1972).

Forte says the postseason provides the Cowboys with a chance for redemption, not only for this season's struggles but after suffering a disappointing loss in last year's NCAA Tournament.

"Last year we felt like it was a disappointment to be knocked out in the first round (by Oregon)," Forte said. "We felt like we didn't play our game, and we felt like we went out the way we didn't want to. It left a bitter taste in our mouth, and now we're here a year later with a chance to kind of redeem ourselves.

"This is win or go home. If you can't get motivated this time of year to play your best basketball you don't deserve to be playing. I think we know how hard it is to win a game in the NCAA tournament now with the experience we had last year. We know how important it is to bring your A-game," Forte added.

Smart agrees.

"Oh man, (the Oregon loss last year) motivates me a lot," said Smart, who leads the Cowboys in scoring (17.8 points), assists (4.7) and steals (2.8). "I didn't like that feeling at all. That's one of the reasons I came back. So I'm going to do everything in my ability to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Smart began the season as one of the favorites to earn National Player of the Year honors. But he struggled midway through Big 12 play, kicking a chair and walking behind the Cowboys bench in late January. His frustrations escalated to the point where Smart pushed a Texas Tech fan in the final moments of a loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 8, leading to his three-game suspension.

Since returning from the suspension, he has played like the player many considered a preseason National Player of the Year candidate, helping the Cowboys win five of their last seven games (with both losses being in overtime to Big 12 regular season champion Kansas and Big 12 tournament champs Iowa State).

"I think my legacy is already defined," Smart said. "I'm a hard worker. Player. Teammate. I like to make my teammates better. I'm kind, but like Kevin Durant said, ‘Don't let the kindness fool you. Don't take it for weakness.'"

Forte knows that better than anyone. He's just looking forward to the chance to play two more games with Smart this weekend.

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