Players to Watch in Big East Tournament: Russ Smith, Louisville
Added by Greg Rappaport on March 9, 2013.
With the Big East Tournament kicking off in just a few days, we here at Double G Sports are going to be profiling some players to watch out for during the tournament and beyond. High flyers, dime finders and post grinders—you name it—we got your full coverage here.
Few have more energy and quickness on the court than Russ Smith of Louisville. (John Sommers Li/ Reuters)
Russ Smith – Guard – Louisville
There are few tasks as daunting in college basketball as attempting to run your offense against the Louisville Cardinals. As if dealing with the omnipresent Gorgui Dieng—whose 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game are both top-three in the Big East—wasn’t enough of a challenge, opponents of the Cards must get by the guard tandem of Peyton Siva (4th in the Big East with 2 steals per game) and Russ Smith (3rd in the Big East with 2.1 spg).
Trying to fight through the Cards defense is like trying to sprint through a thorn bush unscathed—it’s just not gonna end well. While the defensive prowess of Louisville is a full team endeavor, the 2012-2013 season has seen guard Russ Smith truly evolve into a threat on both ends of the court.
The Brooklyn-born Smith is a perfect example of a player who has grown steadily throughout his time in school. When Smith was a freshman in 2010, he was plagued by several ailments including a torn meniscus, broken foot and chronic immaturity. At one point, gripes about his playing time and a tumultuous relationship with head coach Rick Pitino nearly led Smith to quit the program. He even had his Twitter privileges revoked by the coaches in response to a string of crude tweets that included this gem: “Alright, I’m about to take a shit.”
But growing pains, no matter what form they arrive in, are simply part of the process. Russ’ sophomore year saw a spike in playing time from 5.6 minutes per game to a whopping 21.5 mpg. Coach Pitino began to allow Smith more autonomy to handle the offense alongside cerebral point guard Peyton Siva. And now, in his third year as a Cardinal, Smith is averaging 29.9 minutes, 18.4 points (2nd in the Big East), all while shooting 40.3 percent from the field.
But the numbers, no matter how impressive they may be, simply don’t do Russ Smith justice. “Russdiculous,” lives up to his nickname in more ways than one as an aggressor on both sides of the ball.
On defense, he accosts his mark—oftentimes making risky plays for the ball, but still having the quickness to recover and not be caught out of position. Half of the battle when playing Louisville is just getting the ball past half court while being hassled by the spring-loaded Smith and the lurking Siva.
On offense, Smith’s first step is as quick as any in the NCAA. But cruelly, just when it seems like he has his defender beat to the basket, he slams it in reverse and puts up a net-scorching jump shot. His electron particle quickness and ability to provide instant offense to a team otherwise devoid of it, makes Russ Smith a player to watch this March.