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Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart said it's never acceptable for a player to react the way Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart did when he shoved a Texas Tech fan on Saturday.
But the Rams' coach also said the NCAA, conferences and schools should better protect players by ejecting and banning fans who spew abuse that includes inappropriate or highly charged comments.
"There's a problem in that fans believe they can say anything they want simply because they buy a ticket," he said.
"The NCAA, conferences and schools all have the generic sportsmanship disclaimer which says we do not tolerate sexist, racist, homophobic, whatever it is (comments). ... If that's the case, then those individuals who are making those comments should be removed from the game and should be barred to coming to future games for life. If you don't tolerate something, then you don't look the other way."
Marcus Smart landed in the crowd along the baseline after trying to block a shot and being called for a foul in the waning moments of Oklahoma State's 65-61 loss at Texas Tech.
Red Raiders fan Jeff Orr said he called Smart "a piece of crap," according to reports, but denied using a racial slur. Smart, a top NBA prospect, went after Orr and shoved him.
Texas Tech said in a statement that witnesses in the area did not hear a racial slur, and that at no point can a slur be heard on video provided by Texas Tech Sports Broadcasting.
Smart apologized and was suspended for three games. Orr also apologized and agreed not to attend a Texas Tech home or away basketball game for the rest of the season.
For Shaka Smart, the incident underscores an issue with the culture of anything-goes crowd behavior.
"These are human beings," said Smart, who coached Marcus Smart (no relation) with USA Basketball the past two summers and called him "a great kid."
"We had a game earlier this year where there was a comment made to one of our players about (his) mother that was so far out of line that just for a split second I had the reaction to go do something about it. It was during the game, so I snapped myself right back to where I needed to be coaching the game."
Smart said behavior in arenas and stadiums is "the only situation in life where a 40-some-year-old man is allowed to use cuss words, potentially racial slurs, at a 19-year-old kid, and that kid can't do anything about it. When he does, he's suspended."
Smart said belligerent fans "are going to go all the way up to the line that they think they can go up to. So you've got to draw the line."
The University of Richmond's Robins Center renovation completed for this season included movement of some seats closer to the court. That modification has led to an improved home-court atmosphere, according to UR coach Chris Mooney.
"I think all the players and coaches realize you should just kind of ignore the fans, obviously, as best you can," Mooney said. "I'm sure (Marcus Smart) regrets what happened, but I don't think it's shocking because of how intense and how intimate the settings are."
Typically, those seated courtside and in the rows closest to the court are major contributors to the school's athletics program.
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said Marcus Smart's reaction was wrong, "but it's a real societal problem that people can say ... whatever they want. It happened to be at a basketball game. But we all know the same thing happens in parking lots, it happens in (other places).
"We've lost our way, in that common decency is no longer part of the way that we communicate with each other. If we're talking about separation between players and fans, we've lost our way. We might as well give it up. What, are we going to go back to the gladiators and we're going to put a cage around the arena?"
Staff writer John O'Connor contributed to this story.
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