Florida coach Billy Donovan knows Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart better than most college coaches. Donovan coached Smart twice for Team USA in the FIBA Americans 18-under championships and Under-19 World Championships.
So Donovan offered a unique perspective in Smart’s three-game suspension after his altercation with a fan last Saturday at Texas Tech. While Donovan said he “never had one problem” coaching Smart in two seasons, he understands the pressures that Smart is facing trying to live up to expectations in his sophomore season.
“I saw this happen with Joakim Noah,” Donovan said. “You go from a guy that makes the decision to come back and he gets an enormous amount of publicity, he gets an enormous amount of exposure and all of a sudden everything gets into the fact that this is good for college basketball that Marcus Smart’s coming back …
“I don’t know this to be true this is just my feeling– is because he was a top-5 pick a year ago, you feel like you have to play like a top-5 pick, whatever that looks like in his mind, what happens is you can never reach that level. Whether he thinks he has to score 30 points or have 10 assists, five steals, it’s not gonna happen but you feel this unbelievable pressure and I saw it with Noah. When Noah came back after his sophomore year, the pressure he felt to perform every game was totally out of control. Him, he made it out of control. And I told Joakim this ‘You cannot allow people to rob you of your happiness playing the game’ and I think in some ways Marcus has allowed some happiness to be robbed from him a little bit in this whole process …
“Marcus is a young kid and he’s a competitor, and he wants to win and I think he’s one of those guys that just kind of keep on grinding and there’s no question his emotions got the better of him. But I’m not so sure that this is not, has something to do with the pressure he’s personally put on himself at the level he wants to perform at and the quicker he gets to a place to where he can realize he’s not going to live up to those expectations, that he’s got to do what he can do to help the team, I think the better off he is.”
Donovan also weighed in on the subject of fan etiquette, which factored into Smart’s outburst. The fan who provoked Smart with a profane outburst, Jeff Orr, has apologized for his remarks and given up his courtside seats at Texas Tech the rest of the season.
Donovan said he feels like schools to do a good job before games endorsing and promoting good sportsmanship. But he admitted it sometimes doesn’t carry over into games. In 2004, for example, Kentucky’s athletic administration sent a letter of apology to UF for derogatory slurs and chants fans at Rupp Arena directed toward former UF guard Matt Walsh.
“There are times when things do cross the line, in my opinion,” Donovan said. “And it’s just not like I’m passing judgment of anybody else out there. I’m sure sometimes our fans have done that, too. You don’t want to see that. You want to see your fans root for your team and encourage your team as best they can. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen and that sometimes is unfortunate. But you can’t be responsible for what somebody else is saying or doing Because you’ve got to be responsible for what you’re doing. I think that’s the message for us.”