U of L hoops feature: Russ Smith

The 11th in a series of stories published by Cardinal Authority on individual members of the University of Louisville basketball team. The latest installment looks at senior Russ Smith.

Russdiculous is back for his senior season at the University of Louisville.

But after helping lead the Cardinals to a national title last season, U of L senior Russ Smith turned down a chance to enter the NBA Draft, came back and is ready to begin a new season with less ‘diculous' from his nickname.

"I'll keep the name," Smith said. "I love the nickname, but my game is a lot different this year. I'm taking better shots and I'm playing under control.

"I want to keep the name but my game has changed."

U of L coach Rick Pitino said the change is for the better from the dynamic and charismatic guard who almost transferred several years ago.

Smith is trying to win back-to-back national titles, make it to three straight Final Fours all while trying to impress the professional folks enough to get selected in the first round of next June's NBA Draft.

And so far, Smith thinks it's working.

"I am more accepting of the fact that there will be games that I won't score as much as I did last year," Smith said. "I wouldn't say I got mad but last year I got upset and I felt like I let the team down because my job was to score.

"But I am trying to make better decisions, trying to get better at making the right plays, trying to always do the right thing on the floor."

The original plan for Smith was to turn pro after last season and his father, Russ Sr., even said as much on the floor at the Georgia Dome minutes after watching his son cut down the nets after the title game victory.

Smith admitted he wanted to go. But Pitino put out feelers to the NBA teams and after a month – and some not-so-great feedback – Smith said he was returning. He was named one of the team's captains and talked about "maturing."

"They want to see me more controlled, more of a point-guard mindset," Smith said of the scouts. "Honestly it's something that I don't really want to comment on. It kind of frustrates me because I feel like I do so many good things and I bring so much good to the table that they want to see something that nobody else sees. But I'm working at it every day, just being more poised.

"They don't want to see the one-on-one, the one-on-three breaks, not kicking it out on breaks. Just being more unselfish."

Smith said even after another banner season he believes it could be "tough to crack" into the first round, but he's going to keep trying.

"I can't worry about it," he said. "All I can just tell them is that I am one of the all-time leading (single tournament) scorers in the NCAA Tournament, won an NCAA title and a couple of Big East titles. They can't take those away from me."

Pitino said he has been "really pleased," with the improved and more under control Smith, noting there are still times he reverts to his old self.

The Hall of Fame coach has said on numerous occasions that he believes when it's all said and done that Smith will make an NBA roster.

"There is going to be a pro team that drafts Russ Smith," Pitino said. "And they're going to find out they have a dynamic guard and with six seconds left on the clock, he has the ability to go by anybody to create a shot for him or his teammates.

It's been a long road for Smith.

His first two seasons at U of L were like a roller coaster and he considered transferring to Manhattan as a sophomore. But he stuck it out.

And he turned into one of the best players in the country.

Smith averaged 11.5 points a game as a sophomore and helped the Cardinals to the Final Four, while leading the team with 18.9 points a game last season.

"I went through a lot," Smith said. "I like literally went through everything, people were making fun of me and laughing. I've been through hell.

"And there's no punch line to that. I've said for me to be here and where I am at right now, I am pretty amazed. It's amazing."

Smith told Cardinal Authority that he feels his story is so hard to duplicate that he's talked with Pitino and his academic advisors about someday he needs to make to write a book, which he said he would title "One Hour Contract." Pitino's new book is the "One Day Contract."

"My story from freshman year of high school up until my All-American season, nobody knows the true story and what I have been through," Smith said. "I've come from Coach P looking down the bench and almost putting Fred Hina in to being an All-American. I mean coach literally looked down and said Fr, Rus, Frd, Russ get into the game. I have stories for days. It would be a nice read for athletes."

Smith said about his relationship with Pitino that he "see's coach as a friend, someone I look up too but can go to with anything."

Pitino said he would often get a late night text message from Smith during the summer just telling him what he was doing or as Smith said he'd send the coach "a video of what I was doing or photo of the shoes I was wearing that day."

"You have to get to know the brains of the operation," Smith said. "Then you will get the keys to whatever door needs to be open. I worked hard to get to know coach and I worked hard to get to be able to play the way I do."

Now, Smith gets one final shot to do it.

While he'll play a little more under control, Pitino said he's still going to be one of the best in the country. Smith was the first U of L player since Pervis Ellison in 1986 to be named to the Associated Press preseason All-American team.

"I just can't wait to get things rolling," Smith said. "I know I probably won't see too many open crevices for me this year. So, I have to make sure to get everybody else the ball. It's going to be so much fun again.

"I have been waiting on this since I decided to come back and I am ready to get going."

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