Honoring Our Seniors: Russ Smith
03/07/2014 05:52 PM
- 126 games
- 1,776 career points (8th)
- 242 career steals (2nd)
- 2,999 career minutes
Although Russ Smith is now known for his lightening-quick speed and ridiculous moves on the court (pun intended), his Cardinal career started slow. He was underestimated because of his size, and he was criticized for his sometimes selfish play. Four years later for UofL’s senior day, there will be some of Smith’s high school teammates in the crowd, teammates who knew a completely different Russ Smith.
“I actually apologized to them for the way I played in high school because I didn’t realize how much of a detriment I might have been to the growth of our high school team,” Smith said. “From the player I was back then to now, I do a lot of things differently even off the court.”
As a freshman, he missed time due to a strained foot, a broken foot, a concussion and a sore knee. His season high was a measly nine points, and Smith only played in 17 games. But that was just the beginning.
As a sophomore, Smith started making a name for himself. By the time the Cards played in-state rival Kentucky, Smith was at his peak, scoring a season-high 30 points at Rupp Arena. In fact, the only season Russ did not score in double digits against the Wildcats was his freshman year, where he scored 0 points in 5 minutes for UofL.
In the 2012 NCAA Elite 8, Russ led the team in scoring against Florida with 19 points coming off the bench. He ended the season ranked third in steals in the Big East and 19th nationally with 87.
For his colorful personality and crazy antics on the court, head coach Rick Pitino nicknamed Smith “Russdiculous.” While Smith’s risk-taking on the court can frustrate Pitino at times, the UofL coach loves to give him the latitude to be great.
“In between the lines, he’s serious and sometimes it’s hard to break that barrier. I knew if I had a chance to perform he might lighten up,” Smith said. “Our relationship is truly special because his aggression and his ‘mean face’ is always on the basketball court. But off the court, when you get to know him, he’s a truly fabulous, happy-go-lucky person.”
Junior year, Smith anchored the back court with Peyton Siva, becoming a dangerous duo of guards. Against Kentucky, Smith was all over the box score with 21 points, 3 steals, 3 assists and 7 rebounds. When playing at DePaul, Smith became UofL’s 65th 1,000-point scorer with his 17-point performance. By the end of the season, Russ was the MVP of the Midwest Regional, the national Player of the Year and an All-Big East first team selection. Not to mention, he helped Louisville win their third national championship, averaging 15 points in Atlanta against Wichita State and Michigan. With his stock high coming off the title run, Russ could have bolted to the NBA, but Smith chose to come back for his senior season.
“I wasn’t scared to come back because I was afraid to fail. When I made the decision, I had strong intentions on improving everything that I had deficiencies in,” Smith said. “I’ve been underestimated my whole life. I’ve been told I couldn’t do something, and then when I go out and do it, I can’t do something else. It almost gets to the point that it’s frustrating. What I do here and the way I play is all for the love of the game and the next level. I play to win.”
Smith continued that winning tradition this year, leading the Cards to a 25-5 record going into their final regular season game against UConn. He scored a career-high 36 points against North Carolina. Smith only failed to score in double digits once this season against Rutgers at home in UofL’s 102-54 win (his scoring prowess wasn’t exactly required).
“I just want to be remembered for exactly what I’ve done here,” Smith said. “If people could just say, ‘Russ was here. Russ went to a Final Four. Russ won a championship,’ I’ll be truly satisfied with that.”
Aside from those big accomplishments, Russ will certainly leave his mark in the UofL record books. Currently, he is 8th in career scoring with a chance to pass up one or two more Louisville greats depending on how far UofL goes in the tournament. Smith is second in career steals, trailing current leader Peyton Siva by just 12.
Next year, Smith will move on from Louisville to the NBA, but while a professional career playing basketball has its perks, the NBA cannot compete with the University of Louisville in certain things.
“I’ll definitely miss the fans. I’ll miss the support. I’ll miss coach and all the coaches who were here with me during the run. I’ll miss my teammates. I’ll still come back, but I’ll miss the support and the love,” Smith said. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get that again. I’ve got tremendous love and support here.”
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