The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

February 11, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Smart shouldn’t be fully to blame for shoving fan

MORGANTOWN — In many ways we were lucky that the Marcus Smart incident in Lubbock, Texas, resulted in nothing more than a shoving incident between a player who apparently had been slipping toward some kind of explosion and a fan who was begging to be the object of it.

It led to a three-game suspension for Oklahoma State’s super sophomore and for Texas Tech’s “super fan” to agree to attend no further games this season and to move his season seats away from the court where, if he was going to get into a further physical confrontation, it would be with a peanut vendor rather than one of the participants in the game.

The incident, in truth, was inevitable to happen eventually somewhere, and it is completely unfair and ridiculous to make Smart the lone villain in what transpired.

See, we check fans’ bags as they come into arenas these days but do not check their baggage, as it were. Indeed, rather than doing things to create an atmosphere of where fans root for their teams and players, we have come to almost demand that we turn that into a cesspool of rooting against the opposition and their players.

Put that into a boiling caldron of competitive basketball, add in a kid or two who is a year or two removed from high school and expected nowhere else to act as an adult, then have them caught up in an atmosphere where every kind of expletive and slur — be it racial or not hardly even matters — at them and you have a formula that has scared coaches and administrators over the years.

Coaches want a hostile environment. Fan groups such as the Mountaineer Maniacs here at WVU even go so far as to hand out printed sheets with opponents to target and things to get on them about.

Now you take a celebrated freshman like Marcus Smart and he is targeted everywhere he goes and recently, as Oklahoma State’s losing streak was growing toward four games, he was showing some rough edges … and to then have an idiotic fan step over the edge was just more than he could — and probably should —take.

Coaches have dealt with it almost from the time Dr. Naismith hung his peach baskets at each end of a gymnasium floor and choose up sides.

“I remember Coach (Denny) Crum once saying to a fan, ‘Would you like me coming into your work place and yell at you like you are yelling me?’” WVU’s Bob Huggins reminisced Monday. “‘If I were to come into Mcdonald’s when you are frying fries and yelled that stuff, would you like it?’”

While the comment was an insult to McDonald’s fry cookers, who are far more intelligent than some fans act, the point was clear.

It’s different in an arena. It’s a fantasy world, a place where etiquette is checked at the door and players have to understand that.

Coaches, of course, have been around for a long time and seen things change. Tubby Smith, of Texas Tech, where the incident occurred, certainly has coached in some volatile situations.

“We all at some point in time heard or seen something. There’s an element of fans rushing the court. With the social networking, they know more about players, can personalize things more, really dig deep and be a thorn in people’s side,” he said.

“A lot of schools are promoting that, also. ‘This is what you need to say about them.’”

And those things have been said and often beyond.

“More so from a personal standpoint,” Smith said. “I’ve coached two sons and in heated rivalries over the years. I try not to hear, get so involved in a game unless it is right in front of me or in my face. I try to tune most of it out.”

This one, too, he tuned out. There was talk that the fan offered a racial slur, which would be completely inexcusable, but no one has been able to verify that and that includes Smith, who says he didn’t hear one.

“No,” he said. “Who would know? Administration interviewed everyone around him. From what I understand, no one heard it. A lot going through a young man’s head at time. We all look back on things we heard or thought we heard. Happens all time. Miscommunications take place. I hope it wasn’t said. If it does, we have a problem.”

As for West Virginia, Huggins believes his team has something extra going for them in such situations.

“The great thing about playing for me is they are all yelling at me. They leave the players alone.” Huggins said. “I tell the players all the time I never saw a crowd get a rebound or make a basket. You go play the game the way you are supposed to play the game. We talk about that all the time.”

“The big thing we talk to our guys about is you are going to be in a hostile environment no matter what the arena. You have to try to tune it out, but a lot happens in the heat of the moment. You have to talk to your team and try to get them to not react to it,” said Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, who played at the Coliseum Monday night.

As long as it’s done in fun, there is nothing wrong with it and players ought to be able to handle it. But when it gets personal or goes over the edge, it may take more of a player not to react than he possesses.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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