Louisville Coach Rick Pitino may have great affection for Russ Smith, but that doesn’t mean that the guard doesn’t drive him nuts. That’s how Smith got the nickname “Russdiculous” from Pitino, who even bestowed the name on one of his players. (But not the one that will run in the Kentucky Derby. That’s Goldencents.)
Just what is so exasperating and so exhilarating about Smith was on full display Saturday in the semifinal against Wichita State. From CBS’s Gregg Doyel:
It won’t show the way Russ Smith went from awful to awesome, the way he played and kept playing and never changed what he was doing. He kept attacking, even after losing the ball out of bounds or to a Wichita State player. He kept shooting, even after that 3-pointer in the first half that missed the rim by damn near a foot. And when the game was coming to a close and it was going to be won or lost by Louisville at the foul line, Russ Smith kept making sure the inbound pass came to him, because he wanted to be fouled. He wanted to shoot those free throws, even after missing his first four of the game, and 6 of his first 8.
Russ Smith wanted those things because he is Russdiculous. No conscience, no memory, no guilt.
No problem at the foul line, either. Three times Smith went to the line in the final 45 seconds, all three times with Louisville leading by two or three. All three times it was a one-possession game when he stepped to the line, and all three times it was a two-possession game — a four-point lead, all four times — when he was done.
That was never the problem with Jack Curran, the legendary coach for whom Smith played at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens. (Curran died recently at the age of 82.) SI.com’s Luke Winn wrote last December:
“Coach Curran knew me in a way that nobody else did,” Smith said. “He knew I was capable of taking some stupid shots, but he also knew all the cards I was holding, and he had faith in me. He said I played with great heart and passion.”
Curran explained why Smith never maddened him the way he does Pitino:
“Russ never maddened me because he scored a lot of points. We don’t get mad at those guys. As long as they put it in, they can shoot as much as they want. … It’s in his DNA: When he gets the ball, he thinks he’s supposed to score. He really can’t help himself with that.”
“I watched Russ the other night at Louisville [a game against Miami of Ohio], and he looked much more disciplined than he usually does. So I think it’s working with Pitino. Pitino is a good coach for him, because he’ll scream and yell at him, and it won’t bother Russ. He’s good at making believe that he’s listening.”
Side note: Smith shared his breakfast secret with Winn. (Tip: sugar on grits “wakes the food up.”)