BOZICH | D'Angelo Russell -- Starring as The One Who Got Away fr - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | D'Angelo Russell -- Starring as The One Who Got Away from Louisville

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Former Central star D'Angelo Russell (0) is the highest-scoring freshman in the Big Ten. Former Central star D'Angelo Russell (0) is the highest-scoring freshman in the Big Ten.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The ones that get away are the ones that you talk about after a team loses a game or shows a puzzling flaw.

Louisville lost to Duke last Saturday. The Cardinals failed to shoot 30 percent from the field. They missed 21 of 25 three-point shots.

This week that makes The One Who Got Away D'Angelo Russell, the kid who played his freshman season in high school at Louisville Central and is playing his freshman season in college at Ohio State.

In your mind, you plug and play his skills in Rick Pitino's rotation.

Strange how these things work. The latest edition of “The Journey,” a 30-minute show that airs every week on The Big Ten Network, features Russell, who is delivering a fabulous season for coach Thad Matta.

Russell and Duke center Jahlil Okafor are the highest-scoring freshmen in the nation, at 18.6 points per game. Among freshmen, Russell ranks fourth nationally in assists and fifth in steals. Russell is 6 feet 5, left-handed and supremely confident.

Here is the statistic that resonates: Russell has made 52 of 117 three-point shots, a mere 44.4 percent.

Russell did not share many insights about why he left home for Columbus, but he did say this while talking about his decision to leave Central to play his final three seasons of high school ball at Montverde Academy, near Orlando, Fla. (You can watch the story at this link, although you will have to enter information about your TV provider.)

“I was never really a fan of basketball specifically,” Russell said. “I was more of a football player, honestly, when I was younger.

“We used to always play in the backyard with the whole neighborhood and it kept us out of trouble, knowing that two streets over was gang-related.

“I feel like if I would have stayed there, I wouldn't have been ready at college my first year.”

We'll never know.

What we do know is this: Russell is one of the three best freshmen in college basketball this season as well as a likely lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Russell ranks second, behind Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin, in the player efficiency ratings for the Big Ten at Ken Pomeroy's web site.DraftExpress.com projects that Russell will be the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, behind only Okafor, former Texas high school star Emmanuel Mudiay and Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky's freshman center.

Unless something crazy happens, Russell will be the next prime NBA player from Louisville, the guy who follows Rajon Rondo's splendid career path.

Did I say that it was strange how these things work? Like Rondo, Russell played for Doug Bibby in high school. Like Russell, Rondo loved football. As he did with Rondo, Bibby loved Russell from the first time he saw him in the seventh grade.

“You just know that some kids have it,” Bibby said. “They have a special gift.

“I saw there was something special about him. It's not just one category that makes someone special. It's the way he passes the ball, the plays that he sees ahead of the play. His instincts. His determination. His drive. His poise. All those things.

“When you see a kid that's not fully matured and doesn't have the strength of a lot of 11th and 12th graders or quickness or the maturity, but they're still competing or actually out-competing those kids, you're like, ‘When they mature, they're going to be scary.' “

Bibby coached Rondo for three seasons at Eastern High School before the coach encouraged Rondo to finish his prep career at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Bibby coached Russell for one season at Central before Russell's father, Antonio, decided to accept Montverde's offer.

Initially, Bibby was surprised to lose him. But he remembered how moving improved Rondo's status as a recruit.

“I couldn't argue with it,” Bibby said. “It was a lot of the same reasons that I wanted Rajon to go to Oak Hill.

“I wanted to have him play against better competition every day in practice. I wanted him play against better competition with the schedule that Montverde had. Now you're on a national stage. He just wanted something better for his son.

“Biscuit (Russell's father) didn't play around. There were several times he told me the kids were going to be a little late to practice because they had to clean up their rooms and get out the trash. He didn't play.”

Bibby was not certain why Russell chose Ohio State over Louisville or Kentucky. During his interview on “The Journey,” Russell said that he was a fan of Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Mike Conley, former Buckeyes who made their way into the NBA as underclassmen. He turned down offers from U of L, Indiana, North Carolina, Arizona and many other schools.

Bibby said Russell had another connection to Ohio State. For several years he played AAU basketball for Ohio Red.

Do Louisville and Kentucky fans tell Bibby that they wish his former player had stayed closer to home?

“Of course you hear that,” Bibby said. “Every fan wants that type of kid to go to their school.

“But unless you're a fan, whether you go to Rick Pitino, whether you go to John Calipari, whether you go to Thad Matta, you're in a good place. As a basketball coach, you're just happy your kid is in a good place in that type of program. You can't go wrong.”

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