BOZICH | Russ Smith's Jersey Will Be In The Louisville Rafters
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WDRB) – Russ Smith scored 42 points for the University of Louisville basketball team as the Cardinals defeated Houston, 94-65, Friday night – and two anonymous Eastern Conference executives said they have dropped Smith into the 13th round of the NBA Draft.
Smith made drives, left-handed scoops, pull-ups in traffic and five three-pointers in only seven attempts as the Cards advanced to the championship game of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. One more night like this and sources have told me that the scouts are going to recommend that Smith play next season in Malta.
"The way he's been playing as of late, you're going to have to triple team him," said former U of L guard Andre McGee, the Cards' director of basketball operations. "The last few weeks, he's really been turning it up. That's what an all-American does."
"I don't know what it was," Smith said. "I was just hooping."
I know what it was: More evidence that if you're making a serious list of contenders for national player of the year, Smith better be on it. More evidence that Smith belongs in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.
And, most of all, you should consider it 35 minutes of powerful evidence that Smith can do whatever he wants to do on a basketball court whenever he wants to do it. Ken Pomeroy's computer formula has picked up on it. Smith jumped past Jabari Parker of Duke into second place in Pomeroy's national player of the year standings.
Even if there remains a stubborn group of observers who refuse to accept that. Like the anonymous NBA executive who told Sports Illustrated that Smith doesn't do enough to make his teammates better – only a few days before Smith had a 13-assist game against Connecticut.
Even if folks along press row have already declared Doug McDermott of Creighton the consensus national player of the year.
Even if coaches in the AAC picked Shabazz Napier of Connecticut as the top player of the league earlier this week.
Who's playing better than Smith right now?
Buried six three-pointers in the second half at SMU while playing on a funky stomach. Punished UConn with 13 assists as the Cards won their Senior Day game against the Huskies by 33. Made certain the Cards brought energy in a mostly empty FedEx Forum as Louisville buried Rutgers, 92-31, Thursday.
And now this splash of history – 42 points in 31 minutes, making 14 of 22 shots, 9 of 10 free throws, while grabbing three rebounds with three assists and one steal in Louisville's fourth-straight victory by at least 13 points.
Do any of these snubs wipe the perpetual smile off Smith's face and stir even a few minutes of resentment?
"Honestly I didn't think too much of it," Smith said. "A guy like Shabazz who does so much for his team. He leads them in every category.
"And then a guy like (Cincinnati guard Sean) Kilpatrick, who does so much for his team. Without him, Cincinnati might not be in the position that they're in – with all respect. The same with Shabazz.
"But with me, we have great talent. And we have guys that can step up when necessary. So I don't really have to assert myself as much as my two companions. I'm very happy for (Napier). He deserves it."
That's an all-American answer. It was one of several all-American answers that Smith gave Friday night during his all-American performance. U of L coach pulled him from the game with about five minutes left.
Smith had already surged past LaBradford Smith, Derek Smith and Milt Wagner into fifth place on Louisville's all-time scoring list with 1,837 points. If Louisville makes a deep NCAA Tournament run, he could overtake Reece Gaines (1,945) for fourth place.
The 42 were also more than any U of L player has scored in a post-season game. They were also only three less than Wes Unseld's single-game school record. One day Smith will be a guy that people will talk about the way they talk about Unseld, Darrell Griffith and Pervis Ellison. His jersey will be going in the rafters. Hey, he's driven toward making his third consecutive Final Four.
What Louisville player has done that?
Nobody has done the three-peat.
"It shouldn't surprise you what Russ does," U of L guard Tim Henderson said. "Whatever he wants to do, he can do out there. We're just sitting on the bench asking, how does he do that stuff? We were talking to ourselves. Probably you guys (in the media) are saying the same thing. He was on fire.
"Once Russ was shooting that last free throw, we were saying, ‘Let's get him to 50.' "
Pitino interrupted Smith's march to the record, subbing him out with more than four minutes to play. The idea is to help Smith play seven more games, not let Smith score seven more points. It was the right call, if not the sentimental call.
What was Smith's reaction when he learned that the day that he finished three points short of Wes Unseld's school record was also Unseld's 68th birthday?
"Thank God I didn't (break the record)," Smith said, smiling. "Happy Birthday to him."
If Smith doesn't knock this off, he's going in the 73rd round.
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