Since transferring from Kansas State after his sophomore year, Nick Russell has seen the SMU program go through a lot of changes. The team hired an entirely new coaching staff, switched conferences, opened plans to renovate their facilities and built an entirely new roster in a very short span.
In his first year of eligibility at SMU, Russell averaged 14.3 points and a team-high 4.3 assists while playing about 36 minutes per game. But the Mustangs finished just 15-17 last season and dealt with multiple issues on their revamped roster.
Even when they struggled, Russell says he always believed the program was on the verge of something special. Still, he couldn't imagine it would have turned around this quickly.
"I didn't think it would get to this point," he said "When I first got here, Coach (Matt) Doherty was the coach and I didn't even think Larry Brown would take the job. I had no idea, and it's just been a real blessing. Coach Brown transformed this program overnight."
Russell says you can see the transition in full effect now with the guys coming in and committing. The team landed one of the best recruiting classes in the nation for 2014 to add on to their already talented roster.
"It all starts with Coach Brown," he said. "He is the foundation. With him coming in, a lot of people want to play for him. Keith Frazier was a big deal and a lot more is coming, of course."
Russell says playing for Brown is different than any other coach he has dealt with in his career, but he enjoys it. Brown demands the team to work hard every single day and continuously get better. This attitude extends from the court into the classroom.
"He is a perfectionist. It's a challenge, but I feel like every elite basketball player wants that challenge to some extent," Russell said. "We all want to be tested and I feel like he does that. He demands a lot from us, but we respect him so much that it's okay for him to demand a lot from us. We will do whatever it takes for him."
Russell says the best advice Brown has every given him is ‘if you want to be an individual, then run track.' But Brown is not the only coach on staff that Russell relies on for support and advice.
"I talk to Coach (Tim) Jankovich a lot. He is easy to talk to and his door is always open," Russell said. "All the coaches doors are always open, but I see Coach Jank the most. He is very helpful. He breaks things down for me if I don't initially get it from Coach Brown. I got a second opinion that I can get it from, and it's always good to have that. It's always good to have another coach that a player can turn to in a time of need."
Russell knows his role on the team will change drastically with the additions of Frazier, Nic Moore, Sterling Brown, Crandall Head and others to the backcourt. But Russell says he enjoyed averaging a lot of minutes last season and hopes he gets the same opportunity again.
"As of yet, we don't know how the minutes are going to be played out," he said. "We don't know who will start and who will really play yet. I averaged a lot of minutes last year, but that's cool with me. I want to play a lot. This year, we have a lot of good players on this team that will relieve pressure from me and that's awesome. I'm just really looking forward to playing with all these guys at one time and being on the court with them and cheering them on."
Russell says the team still has a long way to go before they reach their full potential, but he believes they are starting to build chemistry with one another because of Coach Brown's approach to the game.
"He is so team-orientated, and it's a great thing to be around," Russell said. "You got a coach that's concerned with everyone on the team and getting all of us involved. It's just a good place to be in and good people to be around. I'm really happy and excited for the season. I feel like everybody is excited, so only time will tell."
VIDEO: Getting to know Nick Russell
Hoops Feature: Nick Russell
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