Days after Louisville captured the NCAA Tournament championship, star guard Russ Smith said he would not return for his senior season and would instead enter the NBA Draft. After a week of deliberation at the behest of coach Rick Pitino, Smith reversed that decision and announced he would return to the Cardinals.
The 6-foot-1 guard said he wants to become his family’s first college graduate and also win another title.
Smith led Louisville (35-5) with 18.7 points per game this season, including 22.3 in the NCAA tournament.
After talking to Pitino about his pro prospects, Smith decided Wednesday that it would behoove him to return for his final season, which could be used to hone his skills and increase his pro stock. He was an all-Big East Conference first team selection along with 6-10 teammate Gorgui Dieng, who has entered his name in the draft pool.
“I’m happy I finally got it off my chest,” Smith said of his decision. “What was crazy after doing all the pros and cons of staying or going, the pros of staying were so much better than the pros of leaving.
“All my pros I put down for me leaving were very immature. You have to put the work in to get better, you have to do this, you have to do that. Those are challenges I felt like, along with coach, we both felt I’d be running way from, getting better and maturing as a player.”
Pitino told the player to take a week to think about his decision and savor the school’s third title. Pitino, whose résumé includes NBA stints coaching the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, consulted league executives for feedback on Smith’s pro chances. He was projected as a second-round selection.
At just 165 pounds, Smtih hopes to gain 10 pounds while also playing more consistently under control and increasing his assist-to-turnover ratio.
“They love his talent,” Pitino said of scouts’ opinion of Smith, “but they want to see more of those things.”
For now, Louisville and Pitino are happy to keep Smith, whose return gives the Cardinals three starters and eight regulars from their title team.