Russ Smith is a contender for national player of the year, even though USA Today does not rank him in its Top 10.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – People allege that Russ Smith is careless with the basketball. The folks at USA Today have set a new standard for carelessness.
The pre-season magazines have stuffed the newsstands. They're packed with predictions about the best teams and players. USA Today believes it has identified the nation's 10 best players.
Russ Smith, the senior guard at the University of Louisville, is not one of those players.
How do you err-ball a dunk? Smith belongs in the top tier of candidates for national player of the year.
USA Today disagrees. Three freshmen – Andrew Wiggins of Kansas; Julius Randle of Kentucky and Aaron Gordon of Arizona – are on their first and second teams.
You can also find a pair of sophomores you know well – Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein and Montrezl Harrell of Louisville.
Russ Smith? He's honorable mention.
Harrell and Cauley-Stein combined to average 14 points per game last season -- 5.7 for Harrell and 8.3 for Cauley-Stein. They're solid performers. Because of their length, bulk and wing spans, they're certainly better NBA prospects.
But as college players, neither has achieved the things that Smith has achieved.
Russ Smith gives Louisville 14 points before he is finished clearing his throat. He averaged 18.7 points per game. He led all scorers in the NCAA Tournament -- by miles. He scored 140 points in six games.
You watched Smith perform in March and April. No Smith, no NCAA title – and, yes, I remember that he struggled with his shot (3 for 16) in the title game against Michigan. Smith is an unrelenting on-the-ball defender. His passing has improved. So has his shot selection. Smith can run and run and run.
People criticize Smith for playing out of control. They're not paying attention. Russ Smith shot 276 free throws last season.
More than Trey Burke, who won the Wooden Award at Michigan last season. More than Cody Zeller, the Indiana big man who was constantly fouled around the rim. More than the sainted Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State. Only one guy in college basketball attempted more. Smith made better than 80 percent of the most controllable points available on a basketball court. That's kind of valuable.
That's one of the reasons that Ken Pomeroy looked at his basketball analytics and declared that Smith deserved to be the national player of the year last season by a comfortable margin.
Now Russ Smith is not one of the top 10 players?
"People say I'm not efficient and I won the efficiency award last year," Smith said. "I just play basketball and I make people's lists sometimes."
How can Smith become a more efficient player in the view of his critics?
"I am efficient," he said. "I can't become efficient in their opinion because they probably never played basketball before. If you win the efficiency of the year award, then you're efficient. I mean, two-plus-two is four."
For the record, Smith is pictured on at least three magazine covers in publications that didn't reach for other names simply to be different.
"It's new," Smith said. "It's attention that I never asked for. That's attention that if I can get, I'm just OK with it. I came up in a place where I never really got the publicity like that and I'm not really too fond of it. But if I'm going to get that attention, I'll take it.
"But I love my teammates and my job here is to make the new guys get better, and hopefully have the opportunities that I have to be an all-American and to be on magazines because I've already had that. It will be time for somebody like Terry (Rozier) or a guy like Chris (Jones) or maybe Anton (Gill) to get on the cover."