Russ Smith is staying at Louisville to chase another NCAA championship and a degree.
The 6-foot-1 guard is passing on the NBA draft to return for his senior season, aiming to become his family's first college graduate and also win another title.
Smith's decision contradicts father Russ Sr.'s declaration after the Cardinals' NCAA championship win over Michigan that his son would enter the draft. Smith led Louisville (35-5) with 18.7 points per game this season, including 22.3 in the NCAA tournament.
After talking with coach Rick Pitino about his pro prospects, Smith decided Wednesday that his game needed more development. He was an all-Big East Conference first team selection along with 6-10 teammate Gorgui Dieng, who has entered his name in the draft pool.
"I'm happy I finally got it off my chest,'' Smith said of his decision. "What was crazy after doing all the pros and cons of staying or going, the pros of staying were so much better than the pros of leaving.
"All my pros I put down for me leaving were very immature. You have to put the work in to get better, you have to do this, you have to do that. Those are challenges I felt like, along with coach, we both felt I'd be running way from, getting better and maturing as a player.''
Smith nonetheless agonized over the decision that seemed set in stone when his father said he had nothing left to prove in college after helping Louisville reach back-to-back Final Fours and earn the school's first championship since 1986.
Pitino told his player to take a week to think about his decision and savor the school's third title. Pitino, whose resume' includes NBA stints coaching the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, consulted league executives for feedback on Smith's pro chances.
Their determination had Smith going in the second round on June 27 if he decided to enter the draft. Despite what NBA scouts like about Smith's game, Pitino believes his stock will improve with 10 more pounds on his 165-pound frame along with improvements in his shot selection and assist-to-turnover ratio.
"They love his talent,'' Pitino said of scouts' opinion of Smith, "but they want to see more of those things.''
For now, Louisville and Pitino are happy to keep Smith, whose return gives the Cardinals three starters and eight regulars from their title team.
Besides starting forwards Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, they return guard/forward Luke Hancock, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. Reserves Stephan Van Treese, Montrezl Harrell and Tim Henderson are also back.
Guard Kevin Ware, who provided the rallying point in Louisville's title run after breaking his right leg in the Midwest Regional final, said he expects to recover by next season.
Center Mangok Mathiang, at 6-10, joins the team after redshirting this season. The Cardinals have also signed 6-8 pivot man Akoy Agau, 6-4 Anton Gill, 5-10 junior college guard Chris Jones, 6-1 guard Terry Rozier and 6-3 David Levitch.
"We've got a great backcourt,'' said Pitino, adding that his guards could improve practicing against a high-caliber guard such as Smith.
However, Smith's return provides a huge key in maintaining the Cardinals' up-tempo pace on both ends. Defensively, he and graduating point guard Peyton Siva (school-record 254 career steals) helped their pressure defense succeed with timely thefts leading to transition baskets that often sparked big scoring runs. Smith averaged 2.1 steals this season.
After hearing of Smith's return, Siva tweeted, "Welp... there goes my steals record.''
The tournament showed Smith's offensive value. Besides finishing off transition plays with his quickness and agility, Smith consistently contributed big perimeter shots for the Cardinals. His 560 shots for 748 points accounted for 24.3 percent of Louisville's attempts and 25 percent of the offense, respectively.
Though Smith's shot selection and decision-making earned him the nickname "Russdiculous'' from Pitino, both made clear during a 45-minute news conference how much they need each other. The coach obviously noted that Louisville wouldn't be champions without Smith, while the guard deferred to Pitino in his decision-making and the announcement.
Along with trying to help Louisville become the NCAA's first repeat champion since Florida won consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007, Smith said becoming the first in his family to graduate ranked up there.
"I realized how much I loved playing with my teammates and how much fun it is to win,'' Smith said, "and this is part of the purpose of being a national champion. Obviously, I wasn't a clear cut first-round pick, so coming back was mainly because of coach, my teammates, the Louisville campus, the community, graduating...
"With the group we got coming back, I want to go out as a winner as well as get my degree.''
Russ Smith is staying at Louisville to chase another NCAA championship and a degree.
'Twice as Nice'
When it comes to the 3A State Tournament and Oklahoma City, the Verdigris High School basketball teams are a household name.
Head coaches Randy Upshaw and Mike Buntin lead their programs back to the 'Capitol City' this week for a chance to hoist the coveted 3A state championship on Saturday night at the Big House.
Cards fly into 3A State Tournament
Verdigris junior guard Cade Upshaw lives for March Madness.
The 5-foot-10 sharp-shooter overcame a sluggish performance in a loss to Tahlequah Sequoyah to bounce back for a 20-point outing in the Cardinals’ 72-42 win over Antlers Saturday evening in the Class 3A Area Tournament at Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Vinita eliminates Inola
Vinita used an 18-point third quarter — highlighted by the sophomore leadership of Carsyn Spurgeon — and converted 21-of-34 free throws to notch a 61-55 win over the Inola Lady Longhorns Saturday night in the Class 4A Area Tournament.
‘Soaring to State’
In the hometown of Carrie Underwood, Verdigris senior point guard Baileigh O’Dell proved to be Oklahoma’s ‘Basketball Idol’ in Class 3A Girls Basketball.
The 5-foot-8 floor general put the No. 4-ranked Lady Cardinals on her shoulders and carried Verdigris back to the the state tournament with the 53-40 win over No. 5 Tahlequah Sequoyah Friday night in the Area Championship at the Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Stilwell advances to State
A jam-packed, vocal crowd — aided by the control of several Claremore Police officers — witnessed Stilwell’s come-from-behind 57-51 win over Harrah Saturday night in the must-win game of the Class 4A Area Tournament at the Claremore High School Gymnasium.
MLB: Furcal mounting comeback with Miami Marlins
Coming off surgery to his throwing elbow, Rafael Furcal showed the Miami Marlins he can still deliver a sales pitch.
After sitting out the 2013 season, the 36-year-old infielder met last fall with Marlins executives Mike Hill and Dan Jennings and convinced them he could be their second baseman this year.
NFL: Redskins, Cowboys released from salary cap jail
When the Washington Redskins were placed in salary cap jail by the NFL, Kedric Golston had to say goodbye to his best friend on the team.
For the past two years, the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys - otherwise rivals to the bitter end in the NFC East - have been constrained by a much-disputed ruling limiting how much money they could spend on players.
NFL: Jets release WR Santonio Holmes after 4 seasons
Tone Time is over for the New York Jets.
The Jets parted ways with wide receiver Santonio Holmes on Monday, cutting the talented but injury-plagued playmaker after four seasons.
The move, which had been expected, saves the Jets $8.25 million, which Holmes was due to make as his base salary this season. He was also scheduled to have a $10.75 million cap number, a lofty total for a one-time Super Bowl MVP who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency the last two seasons.
NFL: Seattle re-signs DE Michael Bennett
Free agent defensive end Michael Bennett is returning to Seattle after agreeing to a multi-year deal with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Terms of the contract were not immediately available on Monday. Bennett was considered one of the top free agents in the NFL after a breakout season with the Seahawks where he led the team in sacks and proved a versatile option as a defensive end and defensive tackle.
High School Basketball State Tournament Brackets
The Oklahoma High School Basketball State Tournaments will get under way this week in Oklahoma City and the Tulsa-Metro Area.
Below is a listing of the Class 3A-6A State Tournament Pairings.
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