In today's age of high-profile basketball scouting, when some players are nationally known before they leave middle school and many become household names before they own a driver's license, D'Angelo Russell is a bit of a throwback.
The Louisville, Ky., native enters his junior season at Florida's Montverde Academy somewhat in awe that hoops fans across the country actually know who he is.
"I would have never believed it," said Russell, who is ranked a five-star prospect and the No. 12 player in the Class of 2014 by Scout. "Growing up, I always hoped to be good, but I never dreamed of anything like this. To have schools talking to me like Kentucky and Louisville, Indiana and Xavier, Ohio State and Missouri… it's just a blessing. It's opened so many doors for me, I just want to keep working harder to get even better."
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Russell had something of a breakout summer with the Louisville Magic AAU club and his individual appearances at events like the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp. He's a long, versatile guard who some believe can handle either guard position at the next level on both ends of the floor, although he's currently ranked the No. 1 shooting guard by Scout.
In July, Russell helped lead the Louisville Magic to the 16U championship of the adidas Invitational in Indianapolis by scoring 21 points in the title game against Memphis-based Team Thad, who came in ranked as the top team in that class. The Magic finished the summer as the No. 4 team in 16U, according to Five-Star Basketball's rankings.
"It was a good summer," Russell said. "Team-wise, we played in a lot of tournaments and won a lot of games. We clicked as a team, and I feel like I got a lot better as a leader.
"Individually, a lot of people said I had a breakout moment at the NBA Players' camp, but I kind of felt like I could have played even better. I'm pushing myself really hard to get a lot better. I guess that's a good sign that people thought I played so well."
Asked what he'd like to add to his game moving forward, Russell said: "Being more vocal, leading, and just knowing how to play the game the right way."
Russell, who says he's almost 6-5 now, is also on an aggressive training program at Montverde. He has been working out with a soccer player to improve his leg strength and endurance.
"I've noticed a big difference," he said. "I'm a lot more explosive now than I was at this time last summer. I knew that was one of the big keys for me getting better."
His summer also included a renewed relationship with the UK staff.
"I was hearing from them at the beginning of my ninth-grade year, but I didn't hear from them much again until this spring," Russell said. "I was real happy when I talked to (UK assistant) Kenny Payne again, and he told me they liked what I was doing on the court."
He squeezed in an unofficial visit to Lexington around his busy summer hoops schedule.
"It was great," Russell said. "I loved it."
Asked if anything stood out as a highlight, he added: "Getting to know the coaches better. I like coach Payne a lot, and of course coach Cal is great to talk to. I like their player development program and their recruiting, how they replace a lot of guys every year, but you know you're going to play with other great players and get better."
The NBA Draft, which saw UK's Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist go 1-2 and four other Cats selected, was particularly eye-opening for Russell.
"That's what we all dream of," he said. "To see those guys come up the same way I am and make it, that's a great thing."
Russell doesn't have an official scholarship offer from the Wildcats yet, but he says he feels like good things will come if he keeps progressing. "Coach Cal talked to me before I left to come down here, and he told me to keep pushing myself and stay hungry. That's what I'm doing."
Russell an elite prospect after huge summer
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