Russ Smith held the news media in the palm of his hand at Rick Pitino’s pre-UConn press conference Friday talking about his relationship with the coach, his time with the University of Louisville basketball team, his thoughts about the NBA and his personal motivations.
“Our relationship (with Rick Pitino) is truly special. His mean face and aggression are always on on the basketball court. But when you get to know him, he’s truly a fabulous, happy-go-lucky person. In between the lines, he’s really serious. I think we’ve done a great job of working out what we need to work out and focus on winning.
“A lot of my boys in high school are coming for senior night. They’ll tell you the way I was in high school and the way I am now. 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 back then. I feel like I could have done a lot more things differently, even off the court. Just being able to recognize the way I played, the way I was as a teammate, the way I was as an immature person to now, I feel like I’ve made a lot of strides.
“I just want to be remembered for exactly what I’ve done here… in a class of my own for what I’ve done … If people could just say Russ was here, Russ went to a Final Four, he won a championship and a lot of other things I’ve done, I would be truly satisfied with that. I’ve been through a lot. Stuff I’ve been through a lot of things some people couldn’t go through. some would have lost their game along the way, lost their confidence. But the way I’ve kept my head up, the way I’ve always fought, nobody could have done that — not a freshman, not a sophomore, not an All-American, nobody could do that. It was on me.
“It says I’m tough and I have a mental capacity to get better at any cost. You tell me to play defense — that’s the reason I didn’t play my freshman year. You tell me to improve my efficiency, I raise my field goal percentage. You tell me I need to raise my assist to turnover ratio, I raise that, too. You tell me to need to shoot a better three ball, I’ll do that, too … Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do that. It’s just amazing that I’m shooting 47% from the field. I never would have believed I could have done that …
“I realized that if he’s (Pitino) yelling at me like that, I’m stabbing myself. He wouldn’t yell at me for no good reason. When he does that, I just take it all in and go back out there and try to perform. Being a big-time basketball player, you have to handle big-time adversity or big-time criticism.
“I’ve been underestimated my whole life, always been told I couldn’t do something, and then when I go out and do it, it’s something else. It almost gets to the point where it gets frustrating. I don’t you understand how it feels for someone to say I don’t get my teammates involved or that I’m selfish. It’s crazy but what I do here and the way I play is all for the love of the game. Hopefully I get a chance to play at the next level because I do whatever needs to be done.
“After my sophomore year, I honestly thought I was unstoppable. I just came off a Final Four, I was one of the leading scorers. But I had it put it into terms that I wasn’t too efficient, that I wasn’t a good guard … When you have friends you grow up with get into the NBA … and you used to sleep in the same room with them, you eat with them and you want what they have. For a guy like me who puts the time and effort in the gym, I’m going to work hard regardless and I know I’m going to get better.
“I think my increase in my shooting, my increase in my assists, just the productivity. If you go by the numbers, the winning numbers, I’m pretty elite in that category as well. So if you (the NBA) want a winner, I don’t know who you look at other than a winner. “