BOZICH | Why I Voted For Russ Smith As National Player of the Ye - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Why I Voted For Russ Smith As National Player of the Year

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Rick Bozich of WDRB was the only voter who selected Russ Smith as his AP national player of the year. Rick Bozich of WDRB was the only voter who selected Russ Smith as his AP national player of the year.

ARLINGTON, Texas (WDRB) – I did not expect Russ Smith to win the Associated Press national college player of the year award Thursday.

I also did not expect to be the only one of 65 AP voters who picked Smith instead of Creighton forward Doug McDermott.

But that's what happened.

And I'm fine with it. I understand why McDermott won. I don't understand why Smith, the Louisville senior, only earned one vote -- mine. Or why Shabazz Napier of Connecticut did not earn any.

You didn't have to watch either Smith or Napier play as many times as I did to understand this was hardly the year for a unanimous call.

You'd expect a unanimous vote for guys like Anthony Davis (Kentucky, 2012), Kevin Durant (Texas, 2007) or Tim Duncan (Wake Forest, 1996).

Except those guys weren't unanimous picks. In fact, I asked Jim O'Connell, the Hall of Fame, national college basketball writer from the AP, for the name of the last unanimous winner of the AP player of the year award.

O'Connell said there was no record of a unanimous winner – at least not back to 1985, the last record that he could uncover.

Like I said, McDermott is good. He made my first-team all-American ballot. But Doug McDermott wasn't unanimous good. That's Magic Johnson, Bill Walton or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar territory.

This wasn't one of those baseball Hall of Fame protest votes to make sure nobody was a unanimous pick. Smith earned his way to the top of my ballot, the way he earned everything he achieved at Louisville.

McDermott was a better scorer. Smith was a better player -- on a bigger stage.

Sure, he took an occasional silly shot. But he made the guys he guarded take crazy shots and dribble away the basketball. Smith left U of L with the school record for steals. He ran the pick and roll.

He led this U of L team to a share of the American Athletic Conference regular-season title, the AAC Tournament title and the Sweet Sixteen. McDermott and Creighton came up empty in the diminished Big East -- and exited the NCAA Tournament on the first weekend.

Let's be honest. The 2014 player of the year race was over in February. Maybe January. I'm not sure what the tipping point was, but the national chatter was all McDermott, McDermott, McDermott.

Considering McDermott plays at Creighton and many of the Bluejays' games were not carried on national TV, my guess is that was primarily a fascination with his scoring average.

McDermott scored. He scored a lot.

He averaged 26.7 points per game, tops in the nation. He put 45 on Providence. He scored 39 on St. John's. He made seven three-point shots against DePaul. He averaged seven rebounds. He made 45 percent of his three-point shots and better than 84 percent of his free throws.

He's an excellent player, likely a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. But I'm convinced the national media fell in love with the narrative that McDermott was this guy doing big things from a school that normally does not produce a player of the year candidate.

McDermott is also white. Did race have something to do with it?

Who knows? Probably not with most voters, but you never know. It's happened before with Jimmer Fredette and J. J. Redick. This year McDermott was absolutely the media darling.

But Smith is a terrific player, too, every bit as essential to Louisville basketball as McDermott was to Creighton. Check Ken Pomeroy's national player of the year standings at his web site, kenpom.com.

Number 2 is Doug McDermott.

Number 1 is Russ Smith.

I've got no problem standing with Ken Pomeroy.

Ask Mick Cronin of Cincinnati about the dagger 18-footer that Smith made to beat the Bearcats in Cincinnati. It was the first game Cincinnati lost at home this season.

Ask Larry Brown of Southern Methodist about Russ Smith. The Mustangs were this close to finishing out their season with an unbeaten home record, too. Then Smith hit six straight three-point shots in the second half of a Louisville victory.

That was the game when Smith spent the night before the game – and the final three minutes of play – with his arms wrapped around a trash can as he vomited.

Then there was the night Smith dropped 42 points on Houston in the AAC Tournament in Memphis. He could have finished with 50 – or at least 46, which would have been the U of L scoring record. But he sat for the final five minutes.

But some big scoring games and a big-time shot are not the only reasons I voted for Smith.

Russ Smith defends like crazy. Ask Napier, who struggled to go crazy against Louisville the way he did against other teams.

Smith showed that he could play either guard position. His scoring average dropped this season from 18.7 to 18.2. But his assists increased from 2.9 to 4.6, his shooting percentage improved 41.4 to 46.8 and he made nearly 39 percent of his three-point shots.

He became an all-around player, the fifth all-time leading scorer at Louisville.

I'm sure some will howl that this was strictly a vote for the hometown guy. I get that.

There's some truth to that. I covered more than a dozen Louisville games this season and watched most of the others on television. I believe I saw McDermott play three times -- all on TV. I know what Smith can do – and I saw him do it over and over and over.

Russ Smith was deserving of my player of the year vote, more deserving than Doug McDermott was of being a unanimous player of the year selection.

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