After the nets were cut down and the euphoria of a National Championship had worn away – Guard Russ Smith was left in a state of confusion. The 22-year old from Brooklyn, NY was mystified.

Russ had sought out info from NBA scouts, he asked his Head Coach what he needed to do to get to the next level, tested the waters of the NBA and opted to return for his Senior season at Louisville.

When he sought out the opinions of others, he was quite baffled with the feedback he received.

“They told me I wasn’t efficient enough,” Smith told ESPN Magazine over the Summer. “I was sitting there thinking ‘I won the award for the Most Efficient Player of College Basketball’.”

He was referring to the award given by prominent statistic analyzer Ken Pomeroy. Pomeroy’s data gave Smith a rating of 2.636, easily defeating Trey Burke who posted a rating of 2.194, Burke is now a budding star in the NBA.

Regardless of what the statistics said, the NBA had their reservations about Smith. That seems to be odd considering how much stock Scouts put into statistics.  One prominent NBA Draft Analyst (Jonathon Givony/Draftexpress.com) wrote the following about Russ Smith:

Because of how much time he spends off the ball—due to the makeup of Louisville’s roster as well as his very questionable decision making skills—there are plenty of questions about how he’d fare playing the point guard position full time. In the ten or so minutes per game in which Peyton Siva goes to the bench, it looks pretty clear that Smith isn’t a natural distributor, and that he’s obviously most comfortable looking for his own shot. Smith is capable of making some nice plays driving and dishing to teammates at times, but he tends to get tunnel vision too often, while the offense seems to lack much flow with him as the primary ball-handler. While he doesn’t turn the ball over very much relative to his extremely high usage (just 17% of his possessions, around average for a NBA point guard prospect), he also doesn’t generate many assists, and sports a 1/1 assist to turnover ratio.”

Quite remarkable how much can change in a year isn’t it?

So far in 2013 we’ve seen a completely different Russ Smith. It’s such a 180, that it’s hard to just call it ‘Russ 2.0’. It might be more appropriate to call the transformation ‘Russ 5.0’.

“He’s exceeded my expectations thus far,” Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino, who has spoke glowingly about Russ Smith this season, said on a Monday Press Conference.

Pitino has used phrases such as ‘exceptional basketball player’ when describing Smith and with the remarkable renaissance of his game, it’s becoming much tougher to doubt the Hall of Fame Head Coach. Not many players in College Basketball can score 30 points, steal the ball in the open court on an opponent before they realize whats happening and then, force the defense into hallucinations as he throws beautiful passes around them the next trip down the court.

Michigan v Louisville

Russell does all these things plus some.

Smith was called a questionable decision maker, Russ Smith has bested his offensive efficiently ranking last season – one that was best in Division I Basketball – from 108.9 to 117.8 thus far. He’s also taken better care of the basketball. At this point in 2012, he was responsible for five or more turnovers 3 times, already.  2013? His season high has been 4 turnovers.

Told that he had ‘tunnel vision’, he’s posted two double-digit assist games in ten games into the 2013 season. He had never posted a double-digit assist game in his High School or Collegiate career before this season.

Can’t shoot the deep ball? That’s fine. He’ll shoot from deep less and increase his shooting within the arc. After all, numbers never lie, right. He’s shot 20 less 3s thus far compared to last season and increased his two-point shooting percentage by 11 percentage points!  From 45.8% to 56.1%

Pretty good, no?

Suitable enough for you folks who left him off All-American preseason list?

How about you Wooden Award voters who blanked him from the ballot last season?

“He is well on his way,” NBADraftBlog.Com owner, Ed Isaacon told me. “Though he still has his ‘Russ’ moments, this is the most control I’ve seen him play with. I think he’s doing a great job establishing himself as a leader with [Peyton] Siva gone.”

Isaacon, unlike some others, hasn’t been surprised with his development. But Ed cautions that this must continue as Louisville reaches stiffer competition. When dealing with Russ Smith, it is quite reasonable to proceed with caution.

Though Russ Smith continues with an upward trajectory, his draft stock continues to remain stagnant.  Last season, before Russ Smith opted to return for his Senior season, he was projected as a second round draft selection. In 2013, it’s still the same. Isaacon doesn’t expect that change.

“Really, he doesn’t  fit the mold of a first round pick. Senior combo guards aren’t likely 1st rounders especially at his size,” Isaacon noted. “Doesn’t mean one team can’t fall in love with him and take him late in the first, but I would be surprised.”

His Coach appears to sternly disagree with those assessments.

“What baffles me with the scouts is that, in the NBA, you basically have a 16-second shot clock. What CAN’T Russ Smith do in 16 seconds?” Rick Pitino stated before a few weeks later, making an even more sensational proclamation, explaining the following to local media:  “Until you knock the young man off of his throne, he’s the premier player in college basketball.”

Reading between the lines, if Russ Smith is in fact the ‘premier player in college basketball’, his talents in the NBA would be first round worthy.

Yet Smith’s whole life story makes the future or even a potential draft landing spot a difficult thing to predict. The odds have always been stacked against him, after all. To not being offered a scholarship by a single Big East School to now being debated as a potential NBA first rounder, makes Smith an easy guy to bet on when it comes to silencing doubt.

“I’m just gonna try to keep playing spectacular and defeat the odds,” Smith stated after Louisville’s Tuesday night win over Missouri State. “All my life people try to tell me I couldn’t do something and now,  when I do, they want to say something else. Now it’s gonna be ‘I’m too small’…It’s always gonna be something. It’s unfair but that’s the world we live in.”

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Chris Hatfield

Residing in Louisville, KY (via Bardstown, KY). I write things about Louisville Sports. Sometimes you'll like them. Follow me @_ChrisHatfield Email me at chatfield60@gmail.com

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