Smith still frustrates Pitino

Russ Smith often frustrates Rick Pitino with his questionable decision-making and shot selection. But Louisville's veteran coach is willing to live with 'Rusdiculous' because the Cardinals 'desperately' need his scoring punch off the bench.

Rick Pitino has dubbed Russ Smith 'Rusdiculous,' affectionately, of course.

If you're wondering, that's a combination of the sophomore guard's first name and the word ridiculous.

Smith, who has scored in double-figures in 14 of Louisville's past 19 games and ranks second in the Big East in steals (13th nationally), can be a maddening player for a veteran coach like Pitino. With Smith, Pitino takes the positive with the negative, often on the same possession. When Smith is going good offensively, he can post huge scoring numbers - like the 30 points he had against top-ranked Kentucky or the 18 he dropped in an overtime win at DePaul. Therein lies the problem, though - Smith has never met a shot he didn't like.

"Do you know how many times a game I say, 'Russ, pass the ball?" Pitino asked Wednesday. "We've got our Rusdiculous. That's what he is…ridiculous. I have to say, 'Russ, pass the ball,' thirty times a game."

Smith can be a capable passer. He's had four or more assists five times this season, including a season-high seven against St. John's. But he's also had six games with zero assists, something that surely irks his coach.

"With Russ you never know what's going to happen," said Pitino.

Smith says he doesn't mind taking a risk on the court even if it might draw Pitino's ire.

"If I feel like something is going to go in I usually follow my instinct, but sometimes that could lead me to a whole lot of trouble," Smith said. "It's a risk I like to take, but it might not be what coach (wants) and that's what I'm trying to balance. I've got to get better making decisions. He [Pitino] gets on me a lot because I take a lot of risks and do a lot of questionable things. But I have total confidence in my abilities. If I make a mistake I just totally focus on trying to get it back on defense."

Pitino said no other Big East schools recruited Smith out of high school because league coaches didn't think the 6'0, 155-pound New York guard could run the point. But former Louisville assistant Ralph Willard twisted Pitino's arm to take Smith, who had attended Pitino's basketball camps as a youth, because he believed the Louisville coach could eventually turn him into an effective Big East point guard. So Pitino, against his better judgement, signed the ultra-quick Smith out of South Kent Prep.

Though he didn't play much as a freshman, partly because of nagging injuries, Smith came back this season with renewed determination to make his mark. Before the season, Pitino moved the shoot first, ask questions later guard from the point to the two. That move paid dividends during a preseason trip to the Bahamas, where Smith led the team in scoring. Now, he's come full circle, playing major minutes for Pitno at both backcourt positions.

"I never thought you could play a 6 foot, 155 pound man at the two guard. But he's so quick. The Bahamas was the start of a success story for Russ Smith playing the two," Pitino said. "And now he comes in and plays at the one as well. I have a choice to make if I should go with Kevin Ware or Russ Smith (at the point)? And right now I'd rather go with somebody who had the whole summer and fall to practice. Kevin Ware is a very explosive talent but he just came in at midseason."

There's no denying Smith's scoring ability. Smith can score in bunches, like he did Saturday to rally Louisville to an overtime win over DePaul. Smith scored two quick baskets in the extra frame to give Louisville a four-point lead. That's when Pitino grabbed Smith by the head and 'lectured' him during a critical timeout late in the game.

"I said, 'Russ, settle down, relax, don't go crazy now, settle down and relax," Pitino said. "He gets on a roll and he thinks…..but, that being said, we need him desperately. He has come through for us at West Virginia, at Kentucky, at DePaul…but you've got to reel him in because he thinks he can score 80 points in a game."

"He was just trying to tell me to stay focused and that we needed a stop and don't get beat on defense," Smith said. "He was just telling me all things I needed to do on defense, pretty much."

Though he calls Smith one of the worst practice players he's coached, Pitino knows Smith can deliver when the lights go on for his team.

"That's why I didn't put him in as a freshman," said Pitino, noting his questionable decision-making during practice. "You can't imagine what he does in practice sometimes. It may be one on five in practice and he thinks advantage Russ and he'll take the five guys on and you're in disbelief."

"He has all the energy you need but what you have to understand is sometimes you don't have enough time to get him out of the game before he can lose a game for you because he can get off three or four shots in a 20 second span."

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