Russ Smith appeared close to tears moments before jumping a ladder to grasp his snippet of the net signifying the University of Louisville’s four-game sweep in the Big East Championship Tournament.
A side of Russ of U of L fans have never seen before. But not surprising, he never does anything halfway.
Smith plays basketball at a break neck speed, with feet and hands in constant motion. On defense he challenges every pass, every dribble, anyone with the ball, pestering them, getting inside their brain. Not that they have time to think about it. Crossover dribble? Think again, thank you very much, another steal. He has stamina and resolve, the likes of which we haven’t seen around since the days of Andre McGee, now a U of L assistant urging him on.
He challenges every pass, every dribble, anyone with the ball, pestering them, getting inside their brain.
On offense, he’s fearless, his shot selection unlimited. Miss one, take another, and another. Yes, he’s taking more shots than his teammates combined, hitting and missing many shots they would never consider, but providing a constant reminder that the team with the most points will win. Straight out of the New York playgrounds playbook.
When his team stalls or the opponent is making a run, where’s Russ, why isn’t he in there? Here he comes and there he goes again, providing the adrenalin, the boost, the shot in the arm Louisville needs at the time. The broadcast analysts often describe his teammate Peyton Siva as lightning quick. They’re at a loss of words for Russ Smith.
“I feel like when I come off the bench I need to contribute to whatever we need,” Smith told the Sporting News. “I can come in the game when we don’t need scoring and just try to see if I can get some ball movement and get guys involved. Or if we need scoring, try to take my man off the dribble and try to get fouled or something. Or if we need defensive intensity, I’ll come in and try to heat a couple (of) guys up. I’m just really blessed.”
He entered this season a question mark, having considered transferring after an injury-riddle freshman season. Fans remember what appeared to an out-of-control streak going up and down the court, a player who if he stuck around was destined to become a fan favorite only at mop-up time. Just another questionable recruit, another player at the end of the bench.
Smith might still be on the bench had Louisville not suffered so many injuries early on, leaving Rick Pitino with few options, especially when Siva was injured. At one point, Pitino indicated that if he were to have a nervous breakdown, Russ Smith would have been the cause. But press him now and the U of L coach would have to admit that he couldn’t do without him.
Russ Smith is indispensable, in fact.