Apologies were offered by both sides on Sunday, less than a day after Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart pushed Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr toward the end of a basketball game in Lubbock, Texas.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Mutual contrition for a moment that spun out of control was an important take-away here.
Smart was wrong to push the fan and said so. Orr was wrong in calling Smart a piece of crap and also directed an apology to Smart, who will serve a Big 12-issued three-game suspension. Orr also volunteered not to attend a Red Raiders game for the rest of the season.
Lets not get caught up in what Smart thought he heard. Reports throughout Sunday had radio broadcasters overhearing Smart say that Orr used a racial slur, which triggered the reaction.
But Sunday, just after Smart spoke without taking questions at a news conference, Tech issued a statement denying any racial slur was expressed.
This from Orr, after his apology: I want to make it known that I did not use a racial slur of any kind.
Tech also supplied video footage from a camera set up under the basket that Smart crashed into. The camera follows Smart after going down and picks up audio that seems to support Orrs claim.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford refused to answer a question about what the fan said. Only Smart knows what he heard, and only he can speak to that. Perhaps one day hell address this, but it wasnt Sunday.
This is not how I conduct myself, this not how the program is run, this not how I was raised, Smart said. I let emotions get the best of me. I cant let it happen again. Ive taken full responsibility. Its all upon me.
Ford added he things Smart will learn from this incident.
Marcus is a young man who has been in the public eye quite a bit, Ford said. I think wed all agree for the majority of the time, the highest percentage of the time, hes conducted himself as a tremendous young man. He made a mistake, a mistake hes going to pay for.
Its not Smarts first mistake or apology this season. While playing poorly in a home victory over West Virginia on Jan. 25, Smart kicked a chair on his teams sideline and issued an apology for his behavior on his Twitter account.
Smart is an emotional player, and on Saturday at Texas Tech he boiled over. After committing a turnover with 12 seconds remaining and the Cowboys trailing by two, Smart chased the ball up the floor and got to Techs Jaye Crockett too late and crashed through the baseline.
As he was rising, Smart turned, confronted Orr and pushed him. That was the lone moment Smart lost his cool. He started turning away after the push and then was grabbed by a teammate.
Even if piece of crap was Orrs lone description, what a rotten thing to call a 19-year-old. And this becomes an addition to Orrs greatest hits. Orr, a 1983 Tech grad whos described on a school website as the Red Raiders basketball teams No. 1 fan, appears to be the same guy who made a gesture at an opposing player in a game a few years ago.
Some will support this behavior as the right of a fan, that theres no disclaimer on the back of a ticket stub that says you cant act like a fool. But do we really have to ask an adult not to call a college student a piece of crap?
Smart was called for a technical foul but wasnt ejected. He spent the final six seconds on the bench an assistant coach probably should have walked him to the locker room after the incident and had to walk off the floor that was stormed by Tech fans after the final buzzer.
Perhaps the Cowboys recent struggles, it was their fourth straight loss and fifth in sixth games, played a role in the frustration.
Oklahoma State opened the year as the leagues co-favorite but has had to deal with losses to two key players, forward Michael Cobbins (injury) and reserve guard Stevie Clark (suspension), and now stands tied for seventh place.
Smart entered the season as a leading candidate for national player of the year, after being chosen as the Big 12s top player last year.
How two blowups on the court this year will impact his status as future professional is pure speculation. Sundays apology showed maturity, but also a disturbing pattern.
With two weeks before he suits up again, Smart should use the time to reflect on the anger issues, perhaps get some counseling, and return with focus and purpose that has made him one of the games top players.