WALTHAM -- Marcus Smart had his first face-to-face meeting with the Boston media on Monday afternoon.
Four days after getting drafted sixth overall by the Boston Celtics, you would've expected the guard from Oklahoma State to show some nerves while fielding questions from a large gathering of reporters. Or, at the very least, provide some of those boring, cliché responses often typical of draftees.
That wasn't the case.
Built like an NFL linebacker, we all knew the 6-foot-3, 227-pound Smart had an NBA-ready body. We found out he also has big-time poise on the podium. Smart displayed an impressive blend of comfort and sense of humor during the press conference at the Celtics' practice facility.
The 20-year-old was joined by Kentucky guard James Young, the Celtics' pick at No. 17 in the draft. Young is still just 18-years-old and less than three months removed from dropping 20 points in the NCAA championship game. The 6-foot-6 super scorer also held his own with reporters.
"They get it," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "I think it's also a tribute to the organization. I think it's a tribute to Danny (Ainge) and to the players who have played here before, and our ownership. Even though you are coming off of that individual high of being drafted, there is a responsibility that comes with being a part of the Boston Celtics.
Prior to the start of the press conference, Smart and Young -- both wearing Celtics hats -- held up their new green jerseys. Smart will wear No. 36, while Young will wear No. 13. Both will play in the upcoming Orlando Summer League.
When it was time to talk, Smart stole the show.
It's no surprise the two-time All-Big 12 point guard has no problems with interrogation from the media. Compared to the heartache he experienced earlier in life, that all seems like a cakewalk.
Smart is the youngest of four brothers. In 2004, at the age of just nine, he witnessed leukemia take the life of his oldest brother, Todd Westbrook. After an 18-year battle with the cancer, Westbrook died at age 33.
"He was the oldest. He showed us how to play basketball. He taught my other two brothers, he taught me, and just kept leading right on down to me," said Smart, who is from the suburban Dallas town of Flower Mound, Texas. "Now I'm here looking at his legacy.
"It was tough. I got really down as a kid -- depression. I didn't know what was going on. It was a tough time, not just for me, but for my family. The thing is, he never really allowed you to feel sorry for him. Every time you saw him, he would put a smile on his face. If you didn't know who he was or what he was going through, you would never know that he was in pain or he was struggling. He did tell me to never take any days for granted. As quickly as it was given to you, it can be taken away just as fast. He's one of my biggest inspirations. He's my motivation every day."
Westbrook was a high school basketball star, despite being diagnosed at 15. Smart recalled one game where Westbrook was advised not to play because of a tumor behind his left eye. He checked himself out of the hospital, went to the game and scored 30 points while shooting over 60-percent from the field.
"All the odds were against him, but he kept fighting," Smart said. "He showed up to that game on a Friday night, and the coach said 'what are you doing here?' He said 'I'm here to play.' His left eye was shut closed. My mom (Camellia) went to that game and she said she cried because it was one of the best games he ever played in his life."
Smart has a tattoo on his right arm to honor Westbrook. It reads "R.I.P. Todd" and has a basketball with the No. 3, and clouds around it.
Smart watched older brother Michael Smart go down the wrong path and nearly die from cocaine addiction. He also dealt with a slew of criticism as a sophomore this past season for what was perceived as supbar production.
Smart averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists as a freshman point guard. Had he entered the 2013 draft, he very well may have gone No. 1 thanks to his size and athleticism. As a sophomore, his numbers went up across the board (18 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, 42.2 field goal percentage). But because Oklahoma State finished a disappointing 21-12, some questioned his leadership and talent.
On Feb. 8 during a game at Texas Tech, Smart shoved a fan in the stands after a verbal altercation in the closing minutes of the game, and received a technical foul. Smart was suspended for three games because of the incident.
He had to work to restore his image and put the focus back on his play. In his final college game, a second round NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga, Smart had 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals, becoming the first player in tourney history to amass those numbers in one game.
"I have no regrets," said Smart. "That's why you go to college -- to learn about yourself and to make mistakes and learn from them. That's what happened. I've been through a lot of adversity my sophomore year that will help me in the future, not just in basketball, but in life."
Smart was a football player in high school, starring as a wide receiver and strong safety. He says he brings that football mentality to the basketball court and likes to try to physically intimidate players. He also prides himself on his tenacious defense (2.9 steals per game).
Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge and the rest of the front office have said they like that Smart is an "instigator."
"The two things that stand out to me is Marcus' competitiveness and his ability to play multiple positions," Ainge said. "He can help out and crack back on bigs, help out and rebound. I think he has a great amount of potential. His shooting wasn't as good as we would like, or what it needs to be to become the NBA player I think he can become. I know he'll put in the time, his mechanics are good. I have a great amount of confidence in Marcus' work ethic."
Smart said all the right things. Including the stuff that Celtics fans love to hear.
"You can tell the fans really embrace their sports and their athletes. And the athletes return the favor," he said. "I'm looking forward to coming in to compete and do anything I can to help this team win."
He also addressed the idea of playing with all-star point guard Rajon Rondo, whose future with the Celtics is very much in question as his free agency looms next summer.
"I'm excited. Growing up watching Rondo, he fights, he never gives up," Smart said. "He is a competitor -- he's the ultra-competitor. He bleeds green. He has that Celtics' pride in him. It will be interesting to play with him -- fun."
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