Russ Smith Sr. said his son “did it all” during a college career that culminated with Louisville’s 82-76 victory over Michigan on Monday night for the NCAA championship. That title, two Big East crowns and an all-conference first-team selection this season completes a resume he said made it easy for his son to move to the next level.
“At this point, there’s no other reason for him to come back,” Smith said. “He’s had two sound years and did it all. He could come back next year, but it might jeopardize his health. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.”
Smith’s father said his son will announce his decision in the next week. Meanwhile, Indiana junior Victor Oladipo will enter the draft, as well as Kansas freshman Ben McLemore. Both are expected to be in the top 10 selections.
Louisville’s he 6-foot-1 Smith is projected to be a second-round choice. He averaged 18.7 points this season, including 22.3 in six NCAA tournament games. But he missed 13 of 16 shots for nine points in the championship win Monday.
“Last night didn’t bother him,” his father said Tuesday. “Even if he had gone 20 for 30, he just wanted to win. He’s happy for the guys that stepped up when he was struggling. That’s how I taught him to play.”
Calls to Louisville’s athletic department were not immediately returned. Cardinals players returned Tuesday to campus from Atlanta, but coach Rick Pitino, members of the basketball staff, athletic director Tom Jurich and several administrative staffers went to New Orleans to watch the Louisville women play Connecticut in the NCAA final — a game the Cardinals lost by 30 points.
Smith has not hired an agent, but his father said he plans to have input into the decision. His departure would likely leave Louisville without three starters from the championship team; guard Peyton Siva is graduating, while 6-foot-10 junior center Gorgui Dieng is expected to enter the NBA draft as well.
Nicknamed “Russdiculous” by Pitino because of his wild and unpredictable play, the slight but agile Smith provided plenty of highlights for the Cardinals — along with questionable shot selection. Before hitting a bump Monday, he was playing his best basketball this season. He averaged 25 points and three steals in the first five games of the tournament.
His father insisted those are signs he’s ready to take the next step.