?LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This was not the Russ Smith you're used to seeing. After four-and-a-half hours of waiting, being drafted into the NBA was a dream come true for the University of Louisville basketball All-American.
But as the hours passed on Draft night, there's no denying it, Smith fumed. He watched the first eight picks on television at U of L's Yum! Center practice facility on Floyd Street. Then he went into the locker room and watched YouTube videos. He headed out to his car to listen to music.
He surrounded himself with friends from U of L. Former teammates, some student managers, and his mother came from Brooklyn to Louisville to be with him. After his friends went to get dinner and came back, he checked in again on the Draft. It was pick 37. He had worked out for teams in the 26-40 range. When none took him, he said, "I thought I was going to go undrafted. I basically accepted it and was ready to move on and get ready for free agency."
Then he got a call saying he would be selected with the No. 47 pick and would wind up with the New Orleans Pelicans. The Philadelphia 76ers actually drafted him, then traded him to New Orleans.
Smith was happy. He reiterated it several times in a 20-minute talk with reporters that began just after midnight. But he was also frustrated. The player who smiled his way through four years at U of L was irritated.
Elfrid Payton of Louisiana Lafayette was taken with the 10th overall pick. Smith outscored him 16-12 in their head-to-head meeting last season. Payton played 35 minutes, and did dish out 10 assists in the game, too. Smith played only 22 minutes, and sat while younger players got some experience in a 113-74 win. Payton finished 3-of-11 from the field.
Smith watched Shabazz Napier go with the 24th overall pick to the Miami Heat. He and Napier have a history. They've gone head-to-head for four years. In their four most recent meetings, Napier scored 67 points, Smith 68. Napier had 21 rebounds 11 assists in those meetings. Smith had 11 rebounds and 18 assists. Napier shot 17 of 53 from the field, 32 percent. Smith shot 23 of 43 from the field, 53 percent. He took 10 fewer shots, had nine more steals (10-1) and, as an added bonus, Smith's team won all four games, one in Louisville, two at UConn and one in Memphis -- by an average of 17.5 points.
Yet Napier, because of his size, 6-1, 175, was viewed as a sure-fire first-rounder, and Smith, because of his, 6-feet, 160, was not.
And Smith couldn't pretend to be happy about that, though he insisted he's thrilled to have been acquired by the Pelicans.
"There's no secret about me as a basketball player," Smith said. "That's all I have to say. I'm not really mad, I'm just more frustrated, as far as what do I have to do. I don't know what I have to do to gain the respect of the people I need to gain the respect from. . . . They say we want a guard who's 6-3 and 180 or 6-2, 190, I can't argue with that. That's beyond my control. I can't give you that. But what I can give you is wins beyond wins. I can give you -- every time I've matched up against one of their highly touted guard I've come out victorious, not only this year, but last year and my sophomore year. Every time I've competed in a workout, they know what went on in those workouts. So I don't have to sit here and talk about myself. If metrics are going to keep people from liking me, then that's something I can deal with. But if you're going to sit here and tell me that somebody is better than Russ Smith, I won't accept that."
And he kept going.
"I have a lot of respect for these other guys and what they do on the court, but don't act like what I do is not something that's not better than the next man's work, or that somebody else's work is better than mine," Smith said.
"I have a lot of respect for Napier. He's a two-time national champion and I can't take that from him. But head to head, I've been very successful. We played against Payton at Louisiana Lafayette. I felt like I was very successful and our team was very successful. I played against (Michael) Carter-Williams, played against Marquis Teague, I played against a lot of those guys, Doron Lamb, and we're all great friends. But at the end of the day I've been very successful. So the last thing I need to hear is that I can't play at that level, because I think that's totally ludicrous. It doesn't make any sense to me."
Smith said that perhaps his game is being cast in a way that isn't any longer his playing style. But he added he doesn't have any inclination to go back to Square One to prove himself.
"I've been wanting to play five on five and get to face certain guys in these workouts that I didn't get," Smith said. "When we got to five-on-five, I destroyed these workouts. You want me to go by my man, I went by my man every time. You want me to make 60 percent of my shots, I made 60 percent of my shots. You want me to finish at the rim, I finish over the rim. You want me to get guys involved and assists, I get guys involved and get assists. You want me to defend and not let guys into the lane, I defend and don't let them in the lane. What more do you want me to do? You want me to win? I won a national championship. I went to a Final Four. I won a Big East, a Big East and then I won an AAC championship. You say I don't pass enough? I led my conference in assists per minute. I don't understand what I have to do. But now I'm with a great organization and I am going -- I am going to be successful, hands down. Hands down."
He'll have plenty of people rooting for him. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers Tweeted congratulations after Smith was deleted. He and his friends are excited at the possibility of beginning with the Pelicans when they visit for an exhibition against the Miami Heat in the KFC Yum! Center.
New Orleans general manager Del Demps spoke with Smith briefly after acquiring him."He said we traded for you, we wanted you, everybody on our staff is a fan," Smith said. ". . . So this makes me very happy. I get a chance to perform for an organization that believes in me and likes my game. So if I use this the right way, it'll make my game even sweeter, and I can go down there and contribute. It doesn't even necessarily have to be playing. If it means hard work, if it means cheering on guys, but I'm going to compete and do whatever I can to help this organization and to be a positive person in the community."
Demps said, "He's a champion and has won a lot of games. 'We're excited to bring him into the program. He's a dynamic player, a two-way player and that's what we're excited about."
Competition at guard will be stiff. The Pelicans already have guards Tyreke Evans, Eric Cordon, Austin Rivers and Jrue Holiday under contract. Smith won't get a guaranteed contract unless he can make the team. Smith will begin Summer League play in Las Vegas on July 11 at 10:30 p.m.
"It's been a rough 2-month stretch, but I got selected by a team that loves me, that traded for me," Smith said. "I'm just ready to go. . . . All I need is an opportunity and they've given me that. I'm here to make it work. Whatever I have to do to make it work. . . . It may seem like I'm angry, but I'm very happy. I'm totally happy."
But after a long NBA Draft night, Smith also was more determined than he ever has been. On the ESPN telecast, one player after another drafted in the lottery talked about having a chip on his shoulder. Smith might have the biggest chip of all, and he'll be packing it for his move to New Orleans soon.
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