Russ Smith ready to play against his 'boys'

ORLANDO, Fla. - University of Louisville senior guard Russ Smith will have some familiarity with the Cardinals' first round NCAA Tournament opponent. The Cardinals face Manhattan, a team that Smith knows or played with most of the Jaspers' players during high school.

Forget the fact that Russ Smith almost transferred to Manhattan College following a disappointing freshman season at the University of Louisville four years ago.

But the native New Yorker didn't need to almost become a teammate of those players on the Jaspers roster to know them well.

Smith grew up with several of them, played with and against a few in high school and on the AAU scene and said "those are my boys."

"I know each one of those guys on the team," Smith said. "It's very weird because it's a coach (Steve Masiello) that I know. But it's also weird because it's guys I have watched growing up, guys who I played with, guys I watched play.

"It's crazy to see those guys in the tournament and on a big stage. It's fun, I just wish we didn't have to play them."

Smith, the No. 5 all-time scorer in U of L history, said he went to high school with Manhattan forward Ashton Pankey and grew up alongside guard George Beamon, while also knowing forward Rhamel Brown and guard RaShawn Stokes since growing up on Brooklyn. Smith noted that Stokes is his cousin.

"As a whole, 13 players down the roster, they're extremely talented," Smith said. "They have a few guys who were under recruited like me but they can play. They're good."

While Masiello has been gone for three seasons, Smith said he still has a "very close" relationship with the former U of L assistant. Masiello said Russ Smith Sr., is "a big part of my life and means a lot to my family."

"We text each other often," Smith Jr. said. "It's a really special relationship with him. I'm pretty nervous on (texting Masiello) this week. I don't now why, but I'm nervous on that. He knows that I love him."

Smith has said several times he was close to leaving U of L after his freshman season and Masiello said last year that he "had a jersey ready for him," but it didn't work out.

Three years later, Smith is one of the top players in the country and Masiello has the Jaspers in the NCAA Tournament.

"The last two days I've been trying to get him to transfer now, and it isn't going too well," Masiello said. "It's so funny when you take five steps back from this thing and you look at it, this is just a great story, and regardless of what happens tomorrow night, this has been so much fun for us. I hope they feel the same way, but I've had a blast with all the people involved, and they're such great people. You know, do I wish we had Russ Smith?

"I'd love to have Russ Smith play for me. That being said, I don't think either of us would change one thing with the way it's gone."

Smith is tied with Peyton Siva as the all-time steals leader in U of L history with 254. He has 1,856 career points and is second behind LaBradford Smith (491) with 468 career made free throws. He's No. 9 with 178 made three-pointers.

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