On Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center, the University of Louisville & its fans will host a “RED OUT” for the final home game for 4 fantastic seniors.    All 4 of these guys are NATIONAL CHAMPIONS and all four contributed to the 2013 NCAA Championship run that ended with College Basketball’s biggest prize in Atlanta this past April.

The victory tour of the National Champions is entering Senior Night the same way as last year, 25-5. It remains to be seen if this group can return to a 3 consecutive Final Four, but even if this group flames out these stars have burned bright during their time with the Cards.

Russ “Russdiculous” Smith

New York native “The Based King” came to Louisville as an unheralded 2-star guard from Molloy High School under the much acclaimed coach Jack Curran.  Russ led the New York City Catholic League in scoring his Junior & Senior Seasons, and played one year of prep basketball at South Kent, CT.

The story of Russ’ journey to Louisville is incredible.  Russ actually earned MVP honors as a 7th & 8th-grader and Louisville’s Basketball Camp but Pitino never considered extending Smith a scholarship.  The recruiting class for the 2010 season was shaky.  Steve Masiello & Ralph Williard went to see J.J. Moore play in the New England Prep School League, and Willard locked in on Russ Smith.  Willard eventually convinced Pitino to come up to see “Russdiculous” and Pitino listened to his assistant coach’s recommendation to recruit the scoring dynamo.

Smart move.

But it wasn’t the easiest transition.  Russ played in just 17 of 35 games as a freshman wearing jersey #24 (Preston Knowles wore #2). Smith saw just 96 minutes on the floor and scored 38 points.  Smith saw 0 minutes in a 1-point loss to Morehead State in the NCAA’s Opening Round in Denver. During the season, Russ considered transferring, and Pitino didn’t discourage him. “The Based King” almost went to Manhattan with Steve Masiello.

From the beginning of Smith’s sophomore season it was clear that Russ Smith was going to play, what wasn’t clear is whether or not Coach Pitino would have a nervous breakdown.  At this point in time, Coach Pitino was known for his players playing strictly within the system, playing aggressively, but always making the smart decision.  Russ Smith was breaking that mold during the 2011-12 season.  Russ would make 3 jaw-dropping plays in a row, and spike Pitino’s blood pressure a play later.

Kyle Kuric told the story at the 2012 Final Four:  “Coach Pitino called a timeout and was tearing into Russ.  After Pitino stopped, Russ said, ‘OK, Coach.  Now Let’s Hug.’  That was the moment Coach Pitino decided to accept Russ Smith.”

Recently Coach Pitino noted, “You can’t harness Russ or you’ll never see the greatness of Russdiculous.”  Russ Smith changed Coach Pitino forever, for the better.

As a sophomore Russ started just 7 games and played the 6th most minutes.  But Smith scored the 2nd most points, took the most shots, and broke a 32-year old record for Single Season Steals held by Darrell Griffith.  Was Russ Smith’s game perfect as a sophomore?  Hardly.  But he was a much needed spark on a team desperate for offense.  Louisville fans learned of his engaging personality and saw first-hand how that personality affected Pitino.  The Cards won the Big East Tournament and beat Florida in Phoenix to go to the school’s 9th Final Four.

Russ’ junior season was DOMINANT scoring the basketball.  Only one Cardinal, EVER, has scored more points in a single season than Russ Smith did during the 2012-13 season.  Russ was 222-276 from the foul line during the year, BOTH School Records, and added 83 steals which was 4 shy of the school record he set a year previously.  Russ was named Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year.

Other accolades include being Louisville’s Leading Scorer, 1st-Team All Big East, All-Big East Tournament Selection, 3rd-Team All-American, MOP of the Midwest Regional, Big East Tournament Champion, & NCAA Tournament Champion.

When Russ decided to return for his senior season, he did so with a goal to become a more “complete” player.  His impact has been as dramatic as the previous two seasons, but the story of Russdiculous at UofL has a few chapters remaining.  Russ Smith in the next month has his sights set on a 3rd consecutive Conference Championship, a 3rd straight Final Four, and is on the ballot for the Wooden, Oscar Robertson, and Naismith Awards.

There have been 100 Years of Louisville Basketball.  We may have to wait another 100 Years to see another player like Russ Smith.  Louisville fans have a minimum of 3 games remaining to watch Russ, and a maximum of 10.  I’m certainly going to enjoy the rest of the Cardinal version of “The Based King”, no one has written a more impactful and improbable legacy as a Card.

Current Statistical Accomplishments (projected end assuming current season average + 40 games)

-1st Single NCAA Tournament, 134 points 2013 Tournament
-1st Season Made FTs, 222 FTs 2012-13 season
-1st Season FT Attempts, 276 FTAs 2012-13 season
-1st Single NCAA Tournament, 15 steals 2013 Tournament
-2nd Season Scoring, 748 points 2012-13 season
-2nd Career Steals, 242 steals (1st, 262 steals)
-2nd Season Steals, 87 steals 2011-12 season
-2nd Career NCAA Tournament Steals, 22 steals
-3rd Season FG Attempts, 560 FGAs 2012-13 season
-4th Career Made FTs, 447 FTs (2nd, 484 FTs)
-4th Career FT Attempts, 584 FTAs (3rd, 637 FTAs)
-4th Career NCAA Tournament Scoring, 196 points
-7th Career Scoring, 1776 points (4th, 1956 points)
-8th Career 3-Point Attempts, 494 3-FGAs (6th, 545 3-Point FGAs)
-8th Season Steals, 83 steals 2012-13 season
-9th Career FG Attempts, 1413 FGAs (3rd, 1544 FGAs)
-9th Career Made 3-Pointers, 171 3-FGs (8th, 191 3-Point FGs)
-10th Season Made FGs, 232 points 2012-13 season
-Career Made FGs Not Currently Top 10 (9th-tied, 640 FGs)
-Season Made FGs 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (5th, 245 FGs)
-Season FG Attemps 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (6th, 524 FGAs)
-Season Made Free Throws 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (9th, 149 FTs)
-Season FT Attempts 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (9th, 212 FTAs)
-Season Made 3-Pointers 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (8th, 81 Made 3-Pointers)
-Season 3-Point FGAs 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (8th, 205 3-point FGAs)
-Season Most Assists 2013-14, Not Currently Top 10 (7th, 180 assists)
-Season Most Steals, 2014-14, Not Currently Top 10 (9th, 79 steals)
-Career Most Games Played, Not Currently Top 10 (10th, 136 games)

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Luke “Three to the Dome” Hancock

Luke Hancock came to the Cards after hitting a Game Winning 3-pointer at George Mason to take down #3 seeded Villanova in the 2011 NCAA Tournament and then sat out the 2011-12 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Prior to the 2012-13 season Coach Pitino touted Hancock as one of his best players, an outstanding shooter, and named him a team captain before playing a game.   Luuuuuuukkkeeee suffered a shoulder injury prior to the season and his rehab continued throughout his junior season.  Early on, the much acclaimed shooting stroke was missing as Hancock began his Cardinal career 4 of 29 from 3-point range in his first 4 games.  The stroke slowly returned as Hancock’s shoulder became more & more manageable, and so did the full scope of Luke’s game.

“Fear the Beard” really shined in March as Hancock hit 24 of 43 Threes last Spring.  It was Luke Hancock’s aggressiveness that pushed the Cards ahead in the National Semifinal against Wichita State.  It was “Three to the Dome’s”  5 of 5 from beyond the arc in the National Championship Game vs. Michigan, including 4 consecutive unanswered treys that got the Cards back from a 12-point 1st Half deficit.

Luke Hancock became the 1st non-starter to win the Most Oustanding Player of the Final Four in the events’ 75-year history.

As a senior, Hancock suffered yet another preseason injury that caused the Forward to have a slow start to the season.  This time an achillies injury held Luke back until just before the New Year.  30 games into his senior season, Luke is a much better passer and also much more involved in the offense in terms of handling the ball.  Hancock has a chance to win his 2nd straight Conference Tournament and Final Four.

It’s going to be a LOOOONNGGGG time before anyone forgets Hancock’s heroics in the 2013 Final Four.  The MOP is going to missed.

Hancock currently has 1269 points in his collegiate career (665 at UofL), and has an outside to hit a few marks in the UofL Record Book.  We will keep you apprised of the situation as they occur.

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Stephan “SVT, The Janitor, Stephan Van Hustle, Stephan Van Beast” Van Treese

SVT came to the Cards from Indianapolis’ Lawrence North High School. Van Hustle is a 5th Year player as a result of red-shirting the 2011-12 season and is currently in his largest role as a Cardinal having started 14 of 30 games thus far for the Cards.

Stephan’s contributions can not be measured on a stat sheet.  ‘The Janitor’ is constantly in the mix, causing problems for the opponent, getting deflections, tipping rebounds, diving for loose balls, playing tough defense.

Without Van Treese’s experience, the current Louisville team would lack experience at the 5-spot.  SVT has paid his dues and stuck with the process having considered a transfer prior to the 2012-13 season.

His best game as a Cardinal was probably his 8 point, 8 rebound performance in the Battle for Atlantis vs. Duke against the Blue Devil’s Marshall Plumlee.

Guys like Van Treese are what college basketball is all about, Cardinal Fans will miss him.

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Tim “Hendo, Wichita” Henderson

Tim Henderson came to the Cards as a walk-on from Louisville’s Christian Academy.  Hendo earned a scholarship this season and will forever be remembered as the walk-on who hit back-to-back 3-pointers against Wichita State to get the Cards back into contention in the National Semifinal in Atlanta.  The two big shots that Henderson hit has earned him the additional nickname “Wichita” and he’s unlikely to shake that moniker anytime soon.

Tim is a Louisville kid, and has been a Cardinal fan his entire life.  Walk-ons earning scholarships at a high-major program like Louisville and that walk-on hitting two huge shots in a National Semi-Final is a story likely to not happen again for quite some time.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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