By Noah Allison
There is only one team in the nation that has a player like Russ Smith, and that is the
team that has Russ Smith. The Louisville Cardinals’ senior shooting guard may prove to be
one of the most unique, special and potent basketball players not just to come through U of
L, but college basketball in general.
A senior captain for the 2013-14 U of L men’s team, Smith has already been named a an
AP Pre-season All-American, U of L’s first since Pervis Ellison in 1986. Smith has also been
named as one of the 15 members to the Oscar Robertson Trophy Watch List, the award
presented to the nation’s top Division I basketball player.
As a sophomore coming off the bench, Smith led the Cardinals in scoring and steals. As a
junior starting for the National Champion Cardinals he proved to be automatic points as the
team’s leading scorer and a shutdown defender as a pivotal part of the nation’s top defense.
Now, as a senior, Russ may prove to be more Russdiculous than ever.
But the day after the Cards had cut down the nets, the news had been released that Smith
was forgoing his senior year to declare for the NBA Draft. Card Nation held their breath on
the matter, hoping that their beloved hero would come back to help defend the title.
“I really realized how much I love playing with my teammates and how much fun it is
to win and be a national champion. Coming back for me was mainly because of coach, my
teammates, the Louisville campus, the community and graduating,” Smith said. “I love to
win and with the group we got coming back I want to be able to go out as a winner as well
as get my degree.”
Basketball’s only one-man fast break averaged 18.9 points as a junior. He led the Cardinals
in scoring with 748 points. The second-highest team total is 401 points. Smith clearly
understands that the mores shots you take, the more shots you make as he led the Cardinals
in shots attempted at 560, the second highest being 344, and shots made at 232, the second
highest being 152. Smith was also second on the team in steals with 83, and assists with 116,
both behind senior point guard Peyton Siva.
“We needed him to score, we had a big void in our scoring and I gave him total freedom
on offense to take some of the bizarre shots he takes every now and then. But I needed him
to do that. He needed to play a role for our basketball team. He had to score, without his
scoring ability, getting to the foul line, we wouldn’t have won a National Championship,
gone to two Final Fours and won three Big East Championships. He has done everything
I’ve asked him to do at the offensive and defensive end,” Head Coach Rick Pitino said.
Smith returned his senior year not only to lead the Cardinals to another championship
but also to improve his game to better prepare himself for the NBA.
“He has a number of goals that he wants to accomplish. Remember now, here is a young
man that wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. He was about 140 pounds
when he went to prep school, and came in here and has not only gained 20 pounds, but has
become one of the premier guards in the nation,” Pitino said.
While Card Nation cannot wait to follow Smith’s professional career, they are far more
excited to see what he can accomplish in his final year as a Cardinal. Smith’s journey as
a Cardinal is as unique as his style of play, after a freshman year where he only scored
38 points there was a chance of him not even returning. In his sophomore year he was a
sparkplug off the bench, placing second on the team in scoring with 449 points.
Now as a senior Smith has a miniscule chance at Dr. Dunkenstein’s, the hometown
legend Darrell Griffith’s U of L scoring title. It will be almost impossible as Griffith’s record
stands at 2,333 points and Smith currently has 1,235 career points.
But there is one thing that Smith has a chance to do that the Doctor and no other Cardinal
has been able to accomplish. Win back-to-back National Championships.