Basketball coaches are always reminding their players to ignore distractions coming from the stands, but after the altercation between Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and a Texas Tech fan Saturday night in Lubbock, Big 12 coaches felt compelled to address the topic again with their teams.
“Obviously, you talk about it. You have to,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “The league has always put an emphasis on sportsmanship and code of conduct. I hate it for Marcus and I hate it for the fan.”
Smart, who played at Flower Mound Marcus, has been suspended for three games by the league for shoving a fan at the end of the Cowboys’ loss in Lubbock. The first game he’ll miss will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday when OSU (16-7, 4-6 in the Big 12) plays the 19th-ranked Longhorns (18-5, 7-3) in Austin.
OSU coach Travis Ford would not discuss the incident during Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. He said it wasn’t his decision to keep quiet but was “fine” with the idea.
Coaches around the country have used the incident as a teaching moment, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
“You’re going to be in a hostile environment in pretty much every arena you play in, whether it’s full or not, you’re going to have fans yelling things,” Hoiberg said. “You just have to try to tune it out. Things happen in the heat of the moment ... you [tell] your team to try not to react to it.”
Most coaches said they don’t think fans are any different now than when most of them were playing or starting out as coaches.
“It’s always been like that and it always will be,” Hoiberg said.
Most of the time, coaches and players do a good job of ignoring fans to the point that they’re oblivious to much of the heckling.
“That’s one thing that I will not do, at least try not to do, is allow myself to even listen to anything that’s going on in the stands,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “That would cause me to lose total focus. A lot of times I don’t hear what was said or even how loud the crowd was because you’re so focused on the task at hand.”
Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith tries to do the same thing.
“Unless it’s something really derogatory or something that’s very direct and right on top of me or behind me, or in my face, then I try to tune most of it out,” Smith said.
But in the usually confined space of a basketball arena — which is one of the great qualities of the game — spectators are often intensely close to the action. The Tech fan, Jeff Orr of Waco, was only a few feet behind the 19-year-old sophomore, who had fallen to the floor behind the basket.
“I do think basketball players deal with more ridicule and people in your face than any other sport from the standpoint people are so close to you,” Baylor’s Scott Drew said. “You don’t have a track or barrier [as football and baseball stadiums typically do]. That’s partly why it’s so tough to win on the road. Crowds really get into it. At the same time, I think athletes just have to concentrate and focus on what they can control and that’s the team on the court.”
It will be a tough stretch for OSU without Smart, one of the best players in the nation, but the incident has provided a perhaps timely reminder for all involved.
“I definitely think every coach will use this as a teaching moment,” Drew said. “Every coach has tremendous respect for Marcus Smart and knows what a competitor he is. Any time you have a teachable moment I think coaches do try to help prepare our young people and make sure they know about the dangers and pitfalls out there.”
Baylor isn’t playing like the team that beat Kentucky on Dec. 6 at AT&T Stadium.
In fact, it has been a long time since the Bears (14-9, 2-8 Big 12) resembled the team that cruised against TCU 88-62 in Waco on Jan. 11.
Baylor has lost two in a row and seven of its past eight entering Wednesday’s rematch with TCU.
Much of the Bears’ problems, Drew said, start with their failure to get to the free-throw line. It was something they excelled at before league play when they were a Top 10 team. But it has evaporated and Drew blames himself for not emphasizing it more.
“We were one of the better ones in the country and we haven’t been able to do that in Big 12 play and that’s on me,” he said. “I didn’t prepare our guys to be able to do that, I guess.”
Texas coach Rick Barnes said injured forward Jonathan Holmes’ availability Tuesday night against Oklahoma State will be a game-time decision.
Holmes injured his knee against Kansas State on Saturday.