Just one week earlier, he was playing in front of 18,000 TD Garden fans trying to win the National Basketball Association championship for the hometown Boston Celtics.
Now, Marcus Smart was back on the same Marcus High School court where he and the Marauders won so many games on their way to consecutive state basketball championships in 2011 and 2012. On this day, he was smiling and signing autographs and having his picture taken with about 170 first through fifth grade boys and girls who were finishing his YGC Hoops Academy.
This was the eighth year for his camp named after his Young Game Changer Instagram handle he’s had since his sophomore year at Oklahoma State University.
“I really came up with the name to find ways to describe me,” he said. “The name means so much more to me than basketball. It’s more about life. It reflects something nobody thought you could do. It means something positive. That’s how you change the game. The name stuck with me and has been with me ever since.”
Though the now 28-year-old was still disappointed the Celtics came up short against the Golden State Warriors, it was readily apparent he was in his element helping youngsters learn about the game he so loves.
“It’s being human and exuding positivity,” he said. “During the season there’s a lot of negativity. To do something like this is genuine. You know it’s genuine and it’s nothing but positives and doing something great for the kids, for yourself, for the community. You are changing peoples’ lives.”
“It’s overall been a really great camp for us the last eight years,” said Shane Rogers, who recently resigned as Marcus basketball coach. Rogers and Kenny Boren, an assistant when Smart played at Marcus, oversee the camps both at Marcus and in the Boston area.
Campers come from all over the country and even overseas to learn about basketball. Joining Smart, Rogers and Boren were a number of high school and college coaches plus former Marcus players including Nick Banyard, who has been playing professional basketball internationally the past five years.
“To me, Young Game Changer means selfless, a great teammate, discipline and tough,” Rogers said. “Those are the things we try to emphasize with our campers and those are the things a lot of people recognize with Marcus.”
While he isn’t able to return to North Texas much because of his busy schedule, Smart truly enjoys it when he can be back at his former high school.
“Marcus has a lot of positive energy. You can see it is infectious,” Rogers said. “You can see his smile. He’s been great. It’s been a long year for him, a lot of games. But I think he’ll do a great job of recovering this offseason and hopefully even being better next season.”
Yes, Smart and the Celtics were disappointed in not winning the NBA title. But he and his teammates understand the road to success like the Warriors – who have now won four titles in the last eight years – comes through a process.
“Nobody wants to learn a lesson the hard way but nonetheless, you have to take the positive things out of that lesson,” he said. “That’s what progress means. We understand that. Our main goal was to win it but there are things and processes that we now know what it takes. It will be taking those things, mixing them a little bit, keep the things we’ve been doing that are great and move forward.”
On April 18, Smart learned he was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. It was the first time a guard earned that honor since Gary Payton in 1996. Ironically it was Payton, whose son Gary II helped the Warriors beat the Celtics in six games, who presented Smart with his award.
“It was awesome. It was a blessing especially being the first guard in 20-plus years to win the award,” Smart said. “And then to have Gary Payton, the last guard to win it, present the trophy, was special.”
Smart found it hard to believe it’s been more than a decade since he led the Marauders to their second-straight University Interscholastic League state title.
“Those 10 years went by really fast,” he said. “I was talking with some of my guys like Phil Forte and Nick Banyard about a 10-year reunion. We’re trying to figure it out.
“What we did here and how we did it were some historical moments that’s for sure, something we’ll never forget and the city will never forget it.”
Most likely the kids attending his camp will never forget the time he spent with him.