Russ Smith ready to play 'brother' Buckles

MIAMI - The University of Louisville basketball team will be playing against a familiar face on Saturday night at Florida International. Rakeem Buckles, the former U of L forward, is a center and second-leading scorer on the Panthers team. Cardinal Authority spoke with Buckles and the Cardinals about the game.

Russ Smith remembers the afternoon well.

Now a senior at the University of Louisville, Smith recalled the day of the West Virginia game his freshman season and said he was not a happy camper.

Smith was pondering a transfer. But his room mate then – Rakeem Buckles – came back to the room and talked him into getting on the bus.

Three years later, Smith is one of the elite players in college basketball and on Saturday at 6 o'clock he will be facing off against Buckles, now a senior at Florida International. He left U of L prior to last season.

"He was why I stayed here," Smith said. "He came and got me out of my room, so I owe him a lot. We still talk all the time, he was one of my best friends."

Buckles, who averages 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, said he still keeps in touch with Smith and several other players and coaches at U of L. He's glad he helped Smith stick with U of L and is "really excited to play against him."

"I remember, we had a game that day and I came to his room and said lets go to the bus," Buckles recalled. "He had his bag packed and said he didn't want to be here anymore. I told him just don't quit."

Smith got into the game, had a solid outing and the rest is history.

Buckles, on the other hand, had knee troubles his entire career at U of L. He left U of L when Richard Pitino took the head coaching job at FIU and sat out last season. Buckles has played in all 12 games for the 8-4 Panthers.

"It's great to be playing," Buckles said. "I am very blessed. Some people who have knee (troubles) don't make it back but I did and I'm lucky."

The Cardinals (10-1) will play at FIU and both Buckles and Smith noted how weird it will be to compete against each other.

"Man, Rakeem is my boy," Smith said. "That's my brother. It's going to be great to see him up close, see him playing ball.

"I told him I wont steal the ball from him, if he don't block me," Smith joked.

Buckles said he's pumped for the matchup.

"It's going to be nice," Buckles said. "I am very excited to compete against them. I am really blessed to be playing and be playing like this after my injuries.

"Now, I get to play against those guys. It's going to be fun."

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