Column: Russ Smith has Player of the Year potential
By Sam Draut–
Russdiculous. It had to be said once in this article for the full of effect of the junior guard Russ Smith to be felt. It is a nickname originally coined by head coach Rick Pitino, an epithet to describe Smith’s New York minded style of play.
Though Smith’s journey to Louisville started in high school at Archbishop Molloy and then a prep year at South Kent in Connecticut, Smith’s steady ascend to a potential Player of the Year candidate began in the summer of 2011.
Pitino announced Smith would be moving to shooting guard, as Smith’s style of play was too much of a liability to give him the reigns of the offense. So, Smith moved to shooting guard and began to do what he did best: score.
When Louisville traveled to the Bahamas in August of 2011, Smith scored and scored and scored. But, it was against Bahamian teams made up of middle aged men, and surely Russ couldn’t do this against the elites of college basketball.
However, Smith had 24 points against Memphis, 23 against Western Kentucky, and 30 against Kentucky. He ended his sophomore year average 11.5 points per game, a sign of things to come.
Garnering pre-season accolades was tough for Smith; many struggled to see past his comical personality. Inevitably, he was forgotten by the national media, but not for long.
Once again, Smith burst onto the national scene, but this time, he came out different. He was more controlled, more efficient, more focused — would people dare say he was a great basketball player?
He is averaging 18.9 points per game for a team that has been a mainstay in the Top 5 all season long. Over the past few months, Smith has been thrust into the national spotlight.
Sports Illustrated featured a four page article on him, delving into an unknown portion of Russ Smith. Midseason Player of the Year ballots on various sporting websites include Smith.
In a program defined by deep tournament runs first and players second, Smith remains quintessential to Louisville’s success this year.
Smith paired with senior guard Peyton Siva to create one of the most formidable back courts in college basketball. A tournament run comparable to last season’s Big East Championship and Final Four will hinge on the play of these two guards.
But, for now, Smith will keep scoring. After the 73-58 victory over Connecticut, Smith is 191 points away from becoming the 65th thousand-point scorer in Louisville history. With 14 games left in the regular season, Smith should reach the milestone — just another accomplishment many will likely try to brush under the rug.
He might not need to be taken seriously as a basketball player, but it must be understood that he is one of the best players in the game this year. His impact on both sides of the floor change games drastically; his innate scoring ability bails Louisville out time and time again. It’s simply, Russdiculous.
Photo: Tricia Stern/The Louisville Cardinal