From all indications, Russ Smith isn’t comfortable as a team player. More comfortable in a lead role.

Russ will continue to dazzle at times, scoring plenty of points, making awe-inspiring dunks, creating chaos for opposing guards on defense, with a few steals here and there, creating turnovers, making turnovers, causing his fans to rant and rave. But he will also continue to be a ball hog, taking contested shots while ignoring open teammates. Russ-Smith

Russ Smith will almost singlehandedly win some games, he will lose some games. He isn’t comfortable with anyone besides Peyton Siva handling the ball when the game is on the line. If Siva has fouled out, as he often does, so much the better for Russ Smith. He wants the ball in his hands, apparently not having much trust in his teammates.

He may have reason to be insecure, with all the bobbling and fumbling that goes on under the UofL basket. But it’s not conducive to building unity and cohesion for a team with high post season aspirations.

That’s a growing problem for Rick Pitino as his University of Louisville basketball team enters the stretch. At a time when he would normally be focused on tweaking his team for peak performance, Pitino has a key player who often ignores anything he tells him. For two years now, we have witnessed the coach attempting every means possible to effectively communicate with Smith.

Sitting Smith on the bench, joking with him, yelling at him, ignoring him, even naming a horse after him. There have been extended stretches of playing under control, only to be offset by inexplicable deviations at crucial times. Russ listens, laughs or frowns, provides some kind of feedback, learns the lessons, then goes out and does whatever he thinks works best, rarely coinciding with the instructions from his coach.

Pitino was totally frustrated after the Notre Dame loss, clearly at a loss, running out of motivational and/or behavioral techniques to use with Smith. Should he sit him a game, two games, ask him to transfer after the season, give him free reign? All of these options have to be going though Pitino’s mind at one time or another, distracting him during a crucial part of the season.

Obviously, UofL’s 19-5 won-loss record wouldn’t be nearly as good without Russ Smith. However, Louisville basketball is supposed to be about a team coming together in February, getting ready for a run in March. Right now there’s too much concern about Russ Smith and what’s he’s going to do next, and that’s counter productive for the coach, the team and for him.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

12 thoughts on “Focus on Russ Smith a big distraction”
  1. CRP should be more concerned about his own inability to coach the final 2minutes of a game. WHY did he call a timeout with only seconds left in the game, a 7 or 8 point lead AND WITH NO TIMEOUTS REMAINING FOR NOTRE DAME? WHY? He is absolutely the worse 2 minute coach in the game. He takes credit for the wins and blames his players for the losses…RP can lose a game faster than any other coach in the business.

  2. Here we go with the armchair coaches.How many final fours and elite 8’s have you been to Linda as a coach.You do not know what was said in the timeouts and Rick’s pinky knows more about coaching than most will ever know

    1. It’sad when a arm chair coach knows more about x and o’s than a multi millionair coach does……If Pitino is such a great coach, why does he do some of the stupidest things a coach could do?…..If ya know basketball, it’s plain to see, that Pitino is a great motivator and speaker,but not a coach….

  3. Sitting isn’t going to change Russ. May have to build without him. One man approach doesn’t work.

  4. 1-How many teams have beaten ND at home lately? Granted, we had a good chance and blew it, but few teams have even had the chance.
    2-In a 5 OT game, someone has to lose–but we don’t have to like it. I do like the effort our guys put forth, if not their technique at times. These are good kids, just struggling to apply what Coach is trying to teach them.
    3–That was then…this is now. Move on. Win the next one. Play the way Coach is teaching you.
    4–Or sit for a while. Let someone with less talent give it a try. Talent is only worth having/recruiting if it improves the team.
    5–As for Coach, he’s been there/done that/will do it again with any kind of opportunity. This year? Go Cards!

  5. I don’t see the problem as Russ Smith. I say it’s Siva. Scores 2 points and 1 rebound in ND game??? Smith with 21. Despite the mistakes Smith made, I’d much rather the ball be in his hands than Siva. How many games has Siva blown in the final seconds with dumb passes or driving the lane and falling down?? I believe the team will be better without him. Given the chance and minutes, I think Blackshear would have better #’s and be more productive than Siva. He’s almost there now! They wouldn’t even have been in the game without Smith. Focus should be on lack of production by Siva. 2 points????

    1. Steveko, the difference is that Siva is a point guard and Smith is a two guard, the point being that Siva’s primary job is to run the offense not be the offense. In two previous games, he had something like 10 and 14 assists. Can you in your wildest imagination ever conceive of Russ Smith doing that?

      We agree that Siva doesn’t contribute in the scoring column. It’s like he decides early in the game that he’s not going to shoot whether he’s open or not, In that way he is kind of like a martyr taking one for the team. He should be able to figure out by now that he has to go all in and start shooting. We’ve seen him rack up some high numbers in the past. He needs to quit thinking and start playing.

      As for Russ, well he does need to start recognizing when his teammates are open and not shooting every ball that winds up in his hands. We’re not on the New York playgrounds any more.

      1. I realize Siva is the point guard. So how does he stack up against other D1 point guards?? That’s what I’m saying. Put another player at point and I bet they’d have double digit assists and more points and less turnovers. Just sayin. Problem is even if Siva recognizes his teammates are open, he can’t get them the ball in crunch time because he throws it away or gets caught jumping in the air and falling down. We have seen it over and over year after year. Syracuse? I’d rather see Russ take the shot. I’m tired of seeing Siva blow it. So how does Siva stack up against other point guards???

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