Russ Smith is the most controversial player UofL has seen in a while. Every Card fan has an opinion on the upstart guard from New York. Whether you love or hate Smith, he is no doubt Louisville’s biggest surprise this season.
I will admit to being an open “Russ-hater.” After Louisville’s Siva-less rout of Bellarmine I wrote this about him.
Russ Smith certainly isn’t the answer. Despite his 13 points, Smith rushed possessions, had multiple traveling violations, and at times tossed-up the ball praying it would happen to sail into the basket (although it worked a few times.) Smith even shied away from the point in the closing minutes of the game.
However, over the last week Smith’s performances have gone from awful to awe-inspiring. Smith has provided the spark to a resurgent Cardinal offense. Smith even was named last week’s Big East Player of the week, and his quick hands are quickly earning him notoriety as one of the conference’s finest pickpocket artists.
Russ’ renaissance comes after the sophomore nearly left Louisville at the end of last season. “I can’t tell you how many assistant coaches thought it would be in the best interest of Russ Smith..to transfer [to Manhattan College] and get some playing time,” Coach Rick Pitino told the Courier Journal.
Smith stayed, and has become the biggest benefactor of the Cardinals’ injury issues. Without injured guards Elisha Justice and Wayne Blackshear, Smith has seen 20 minutes a night.
Smith’s skill set has provided the perfect jump start to its lagging pace. He has turned his unrivaled speed into a strength on both sides of the ball. On defense he can turn any possession into a turnover, and with those steals Smith creates super-fast scoring opportunities.
On a team that has struggled to score, Smith isn’t afraid to shoot the ball. His pull-up three in the waning minutes of Tuesday’s win over College of Charleston, was just one of many “RUSS NO……….YES” moments the KFC Yum! Center has seen.
The beauty of Russ’ rise is its inexplicable nature. Is it Pitino’s system? An underwhelming start from Peyton Siva? Pure luck? Perhaps he’s just this good. Upon his commitment to UofL, Russ was poised to become at best a quality sixth man. Yet, his recent performances have been more reminiscent of a quality starter.
Smith’s continued prominence would give Louisville yet another option. If the Cardinals’ biggest x-factor is a back up point guard, then Pitino’s team is in great shape headed into the holidays.
With more quality outings Russ Smith is quickly finding more believers in Card Nation, and I am becoming one of them.