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Mark Travis: Marcus Smart the player is brilliant, but Marcus Smart the person is even more impressive."

As Mark works on his three part series highlighting Smart's time at Team USA's mini camp this week in Las Vegas, he shared with me some personal insights on his experience speaking with Smart and Coach Ford.

Mark Travis/

I have a good friend who is a pure blooded republican, and he once had the opportunity to walk around the golf course with Bill Clinton as his personal instructor. While not being convinced to become a democrat, he did say this...

"I understand why he's so successful. I've never met anyone as charismatic. Whenever we spoke, it felt like I was the only person he was interested in."

Maybe Marcus Smart has a future in politics.

Mark Travis, writer and producer of his own, NBA focused blog, "But The Game Is On," has been in Las Vegas this past week, attending his 4th Team USA mini camp.

The added bonus for us is that Mark is a student at Oklahoma State, and a contributor for Cowboys Ride for Free.

Mark approached CRFF this past winter about joining our team, and we, being the brilliant judges of talent we are (and the pay is over the top, so we obviously attract the best and brightest...), did not hesitate to say yes.

Combine that with the fact that Marcus Smart plays hoops for OSU, and was invited to this year's Team USA mini camp, and we have the makings of a special opportunity. Mark took full advantage.

Starting Monday of next week, Mark will begin a three part series highlighting his time with both Smart and Coach Ford.

In the meantime, Mark shared some of his personal experience with me, and, with his permission, I will share some tidbits with our CRFF family.

A few quotes from Mark...

  • "This is my fourth consecutive mini camp. I was 15 when I attended the first."
  • "I was psyched when I heard that Smart was invited to Vegas."
  • "It's definitely easier to speak with the younger players. They are a little more forthcoming, and their stories are fresh."
  • Prior to Smart, "Kevin Durant was my favorite interview, in my first year. I was trying to come up with an 'ice breaker' type of question, and all I could think of was 'What's it like being a Longhorn playing in Sooner territory?' He laughed, and the rest of the interview went smoothly."
  • "Was also fortunate this year to get to spend time with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Good, very genuine guy."

Mark said he went through his normal process, got his press credentials, and presumed he would get "some" time with Marcus, but never imagined he would end up with 20 minutes of recorded interview material, plus more informal conversation during the MGM Showcase press conference. More quotes from Mark...

  • "I was struck by [Smart's] openness. His face lit up when I told him I was a Cowboy."
  • "In such a short time, I was amazed at how he made me feel like I was a friend."

Travis said what really cemented his impression of Marcus was what happened in Caesar's Palace the day after the initial interview.

"I was walking through the casino, and noticed Marcus walking with someone. I wasn't going to approach him, give him his space, but then I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to Smart's greeting, 'What's up?''

Travis also had the opportunity to speak with Coach Ford, and was struck by how the coach used almost every opportunity to turn the conversation away from Smart's prowess on the court. "Every time I asked about Marcus, Ford would eventually end up talking about what a great kid he is." Mark continued, "Ford's face seemed to light up anytime the conversation turned to Smart's decision to come back. I honestly think he is as excited, if not more, to have the opportunity to be around a kid who's personality seems infectious, as he is about Smart returning to play hoops."

"I know Coach Ford has been criticized on various blogs about the basketball stuff [this blog shall remain nameless], but I think he genuinely cares about his players and their development as young men more than their development as basketball players."

Mark finished up our conversation with this...

"Marcus made me feel special. The player Marcus Smart is brilliant, but the person Marcus Smart is even more impressive."

Marcus Smart for President, anyone?