As Texas Tech’s Jaye Crockett soared for what would have been an exclamation point jam, Marcus Smart flung himself to contest the play at the rim. Smart was successful preventing the bucket, fouling Crockett, but he tumbled into the stands behind the basket.
Reeling from a crucial turnover with less than 10 seconds to play in a one-possession game on the road, Oklahoma State senior Markel Brown and sophomore Phil Forte quickly discussed what went wrong on the game-changing sequence. That’s when Smart waded further into the stands and shoved Tech fan Jeff Orr.
“We both just run over there. But by the time we got there, Marcus pushed the guy,” Brown remembers. “I don’t really know to much about what happened, but I’m glad we were there to pull him away.”
Smart was soon suspended for three games, all of which the Cowboys lost to complete a season-altering seven-game losing streak. Somehow, with the program sputtering, Brown managed to rise to the occasion. He scored 18 points the next game against Texas and followed up by pouring in 26 points and snagging 9 rebounds. In the third game, he hung 26 on Baylor while dishing 6 assists.
“We needed him to do so much more. We had him play the point position for basically 40 minutes a game and it was incredible how he transformed his game a little bit from a scorer to someone we needed to distribute, score, pass and bring the ball up the court,” Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford says. “It was three of the most impressive games I’ve seen a player have because of the transition he had to make.”
The adverse condition was nothing new for Brown. During his four years in Stillwater, he has been the only constant for Ford’s program aside from Ford himself.
Darrell Williams was indefinitely suspended in February 2011 after being convicted with two felony counts of rape (which were later overturned). Six other players decided to transfer out of Oklahoma State during Brown’s tenure at the school. Gary Gaskins stepped away from the team due to personal problems this past February while Stevie Clark was dismissed from the program the same month.
“I’ve just felt like I’ve seen everything in these four years,” Brown says. “I’ve had players who came in with me transfer. I’ve had players who came in with me get hurt. I’ve had players who were ahead of me, players who were behind me transfer. I’ve pretty much seen it all.”
Even after Brown graduated from the school with a degree in Education this May, sophomore guard Kemari Murphy transferred to Miami and Brian Williams is transferring to Lousiana-Lafayette for his final year of eligibility.
“He absolutely understood why some guys transfer. It’s part of the game,” Ford says. “Guys look for more playing time, some guys might be looking to play at a lower level. Markel was never in that situation for the fact that he played from day one here.”
Through the thick of it all, Brown managed to play in all 134 of Oklahoma State’s games during his career. He was never injured. He was never suspended. He recognized an opportunity to grow as a player and a person.
“He’s been rock solid for us all four years as a guy who continually got better year in and year out,” Ford says. “His vast improvement from year to year was some of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Playing 21.6 minutes a night during his freshman season, the uber-athletic Brown excited Cowboys fans with his ridiculous athleticism, showing flashes of a key contributor. His high-flying dunks turned Brown into a campus sensation, similar to how all of San Antonio has adored Kawhi Leonard like a little brother ever since the Spurs drafted him.
Outside the paint, however, his jumper looked broken beyond repair. It took all three subsequent years for Brown to develop into a complete player during the rest of his time at Oklahoma State. His ability to improve on a year-to-year basis is ultimately what placed Brown onto the NBA’s radar.
The Louisiana native assumed the starting point guard spot for the last 12 games of his sophomore season. After Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell transferred mid-year, Ford struggled to find a replacement at the point until Brown grabbed the wheel. Still, he only hit on just 31.9 percent of his attempts from distance.
“Before my junior year, I started working on my shot and basically putting my game together, using my athleticism in the right way and developing my jumper as a weapon,” Brown says. “That’s when I realized I can actually make that next level.”
Brown went on to boost his marksmanship up to 36.4 percent in his junior campaign and then 37.9 percent as a senior. After Smart failed to improve his shooting efficiency between his freshman and sophomore seasons prior to this winter, Brown’s progression spoke volumes.
“It was more so confidence than anything else,” he says. “Just getting in the gym and working on consistency and staying on top of my shooting and putting a lot of confidence into my shot. I was a good shooter in high school, it was just something that I had to put together in college.”
He became more than just a big-time dunker, a transformation that often proves to be extremely difficult.
“Everybody knows how athletic he is, but he can score in so many ways. He knows how to use his athleticism to score and to make plays. That’s what makes him special,” Ford says. “He was one of the best scorers in college basketball. The best pull-up jump shot in all of college basketball, I believe.”
That’s why, when Smart was forced to wear street clothes on Oklahoma State’s bench for three games, Ford didn’t panic. He simply called on the next man up.
“I just knew it was something that I had to do, being the captain on the team and the leader,” Brown says. “Being the second-leading scorer on the team, I knew there was something that I had to do to pick up my game a little extra, do a lot more for my team to be in position to win.”
Brown simply viewed it as the next obstacle to overcome in such a rollercoaster career.
“I think I could’ve played like that all year long, it was just me doing the things that I needed to do to help my team,” he says. “I feel like being in pick and roll situations and handling the ball a lot more, I’m good at. People don’t really think I can create my own shot, but hopefully those three games showed them that I can.”
That’s what has NBA scouts intrigued. At 6-3, Brown is too small to play shooting guard in the League, but has great size for the point. His 6-9 wingspan will also help him guard both guard positions. Brown has been going through the pre-draft process as a point guard, but has shown off his play-making skills in multiple group workouts.
“I don’t think there’s any question he’s a true combo-guard, partly because he played so much point guard here at Oklahoma State,” Ford says.
With the NBA Draft just a few days away, Brown’s odds at being selected in the second round look very high. After shouldering the entire weight of a power-conference program for four years, he feels more than prepared for the next step in his career. He stands out from the many underclassmen banking on their potential.
“I think I’m actually ready to contribute to an NBA team,” Brown says. “With my work ethic, I think I learn pretty quickly. Whether it’s playing defense or offense or playing a big role or a small role, I can adjust to any setting. “I just think I’m ready to contribute to a team and do anything that I’m asked.”