Can Marcus Smart Redefine His Legacy in the 2014 NCAA Tournament?

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 19, 2014

Sue Ogrocki/AP Images

The image of Marcus Smart in the stands at Texas Tech follows him everywhere now. He's still asked about it, and always will be. Years from now when he's in an NBA locker room, reporters and teammates will want to know. 

What made you break?

This week, as Smart prepares for the NCAA tournament, he has one last chance to leave college basketball with something else to remember him by—one last chance to show, weeks after the incident at Tech, that he is in control.  

The things that he could not control—like what a Texas Tech fan screamed at him—used to stay with him like a bullied child. 

No one knows exactly what Texas Tech superfan Jeff Orr said other than Smart and Orr, but he said something, and Smart cared. He cared enough to go into the stands and let him know he didn't like that very much. 

"You don't want to give no one the satisfaction of knowing they got to you," Smart told Bleacher Report last week. "Ever since my suspension, that's all I've been thinking about." 

Smart leaned back comfortably in a chair as he said these words. It was last Thursday at the Big 12 tournament after his team had lost to Kansas. 

As I watched him calmly answer questions—some answers strange, but always calm—it hit me that the incident at Texas Tech and the suspension was the best thing that ever happened to Marcus Smart.

How we act in the bad times is often what defines us. And before the push, Smart was lost. For the first time in his basketball career, nothing was going his way, and he reacted like a brat.

Two months ago, I was at Kansas the first time Smart lost to the Jayhawks, and that day he stormed out of the press conference, and my colleague Jason King followed Smart and teammate Phil Forte. King observed Smart give the cold shoulder to two high school girls who wanted a picture before Forte eventually convinced him to just take the picture.

And there were other selfish moments that played out in front of the camera. He kicked a chair at West Virginia. He pouted at Iowa State when refs caught on to his flopping. And then he heard something he didn't like in the stands at Texas Tech, and he snapped. 

But to his credit, the suspension gave Smart time to realize his act wasn't helping anyone. Letting everyone see how much it bothered him was affecting his teammates. 

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

"He's more relaxed out there," teammate Markel Brown said of the Smart he sees now. "I guess you could say a lot of weight dropped off his shoulders."

That's evident when you watch him closely. Iowa State students brilliantly mocked his flopping 10 days ago. Kansas fans cheered and laughed last Thursday when he was unable to fool the officials with his flops. 

Each time, you see Smart begin to react and then think better of it. 

"You don't want to give them that satisfaction," Smart said again. 

Without the suspension, Oklahoma State may have ended up in the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament this week. The Cowboys won five of six games when he returned, and that was the end of an act that could have buried their season. 

It was a comeback that should be one of the defining moments of Smart's career. But unless Oklahoma State goes on a run in the tournament, somehow pulls off an upset of Arizona in the round of 32, all that some people will remember about Smart's college career is the push and the flopping

It's a shame too, because college basketball fans should root for Smart. We should want to see more Smarts, guys who enjoy the college experience so much they put the NBA on hold. Instead, his return looks like a mistake. 

Not only did his jumper not improve, but the Texas Tech incident is also portrayed as a red flag. He's just another example for the "take the money and run" argument. 

But college is about becoming a man, and in the end, Smart will leave Oklahoma State more mature than if he had left a year ago. 

Still, no matter how much he says otherwise, he is a kid who cannot help but care what we think. 

"I think my legacy is already defined," Smart said when asked if the next few weeks will help redefine his legacy. "I'm a hard worker, 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. Between those lines, I talk trash, I'm physical, I don't respect you.

"But if you fall down, I'll help you up. I'll shake your hand. If you're hurt, I'll check on you and make sure you're all right.

"Off the court, I'm probably one of the kindest people you'll ever meet. But on the court, I'm a pest. I know a lot of teams understand and know that."

Yes, we get it, Marcus. You want to be remembered fondly.

And after helping save Oklahoma State's season when he returned, that is likely how his teammates and Cowboys fans will remember him: fondly. The rest of us, however, are still watching to see how Smart acts on the biggest stage and how he will react when the end gets here. 

If you love college basketball, let's hope that end stretches on a bit. Let's hope the kid can give us another image this weekend that passes the push.


C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.