What's already shaping up to be a really compelling 2013-14 college basketball season just got more, well, Russdiculous. Louisville guard Russ Smith, a driving force behind the Cardinals' national title this season, announced on Wednesday that he will be returning for his senior season. Smith, who somehow was only named third-team All-American by the AP, averaged 18.7 points a game for the sometimes-offensively challenged Cardinals while teaming with senior point guard Peyton Siva to form the best on-ball defensive backcourt in the nation.
This is a great example of a player taking his time, thinking a decision through from all angles, and making what looks to be an excellent decision for himself. At the news conference this afternoon, Smith sounded like someone who was comfortable with a very reasoned choice.
"I love to win. With the group we have coming back, I want to go out as a winner, and to graduate," Smith said, according to WDRB columnist Eric Crawford.
"The pros of staying were so much better than the pros of leaving," he added. "What was crazy, the pros for me leaving were all immature."
His return is a huge boost for Louisville's chances to defend its crown. Louisville already has Chris Jones (touted as the nation's top juco player) and Terry Rozier coming in to fortify its backcourt next season, but now gets Smith back as an experienced weapon to help tie everything together and improve the quality of depth Rick Pitino needs in the backcourt to fully make his system work. Add in an assumedly recovered Kevin Ware along with freshman Anton Gill and returning Final Four hero Luke Hancock, and the Cardinals are utterly loaded on the perimeter.
Losing Gorgui Dieng inside is a blow, but the Cardinals already played a part of this past season without him, and his exit will mean more minutes available for rising sophomore Montrezl Harrell, to go with Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear. The Cardinals should be plenty fine in the frontcourt.
As for Smith, I think his decision is a great one. He weighed his pro options, compared it against a chance to play another season with a great team, maybe repeat as national champs, and maybe be able work on rounding out his game more as the Cardinals have more scoring firepower at the guard spots next season. At the presser, coach Rick Pitino said the NBA wants to see a stronger, more shot-selective prospect who can play the point. At worst, he'll be the same level of professional prospect next season as he is now, and he'll have to play his way onto an NBA roster. He's not turning down Marcus Smart money and taking on that kind of risk. He wants to be a legend at the school and he wants to get his degree. Good for him on all counts. And good for all of us, too. Smith's return is another piece to add to what's been a great spring for college basketball fans. The hyped freshmen prospects look good, there have been a number of high-profile players who passed on the draft, and a lot of the traditional power teams look very strong. Do we really have to wait six more months to get things going? I'm ready to fire it up now.