LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Russ Smith's improbable rise through the ranks of college basketball's top players continues.
The University of Louisville junior today was named one of 30 finalists for the Naismith men's college player of the year award. The award is presented by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and sponsored by AT&T. Four finalists will be chosen in late March with a winner announced on March 7.
Sophomore Cody Zeller and junior Victor Oladipo of Indiana also are on the list of candidates.
Smith went from nearly leaving U of L during the offseason two years ago to being a key piece of the Cardinals' Final Four run last season. He's averaging 18.4 points per game this season.
Smith ranks second to Zeller in Ken Pomeroy's statistical player of the year index.
U of L has never had a player win the award. Scott May and Calbert Cheaney won the award previously for IU.
Oladipo's run at the award is no less improbable. He's seen now as a front-runner by several analysts after impressive offseason improvement in his overall game.
IU is one of three teams with two candidates on the top 30 list. Kansas (Ben McLemore, Jeff Wit hey) and Duke (Seth Curry, Mason Plum lee) are the others.