The folks over at ESPN the Magazine wanted a feature on Russ Smith's decision to return to school for their college hoops preview issue, so they did what any rational entity would do in such a situation: sit back and let Russ tell the story himself.
Seriously, the feature posted online today is nothing but nine paragraphs of Russ talking, which is the main reason why it's a must-read.
Here's a sampling:
HONESTLY, I THOUGHT I was going to be a first-rounder. A lock. I honestly thought that. I wanted to leave because I thought I did everything I could at the collegiate level. And when I talked to Coach Pitino, he told me, "You had a great year, you should try to test the waters."
But I didn't get the feedback I expected. People said I'd go 30 to 40, that there were doubts. It was pretty disappointing to be humbled like that. He's this, he's that, he can't do this, he doesn't have good efficiency. I was sitting there thinking, I won the efficiency award for Player of the Year but I'm inefficient?
It's frustrating for someone like me, because you want to do everything you can to impact the game, but the scouts don't want to see that. But what they don't understand is that I have to do that in order for us to win. It's hard for Coach to say, "You play defense, you play offense, but you have to come back because you didn't have a good assist-to-turnover ratio." Wow, are you serious? I was critiqued unfairly. If you talk about me as a point guard, obviously other guards had a better ratio, but I wasn't playing that position. That wasn't my job. My job was to win games, and that means putting the ball into the basket. A better assist-to-turnover ratio would've helped me, but I don't play for me, I play for the team, and if I have to take some ill-advised shots to kick-start the team, well, I'm not about to leave these guys stranded because I'm only focused on improving my draft stock.
I didn't know what I was going to do. It felt like I was in purgatory. And then I thought more about it. It felt weird to leave my teammates and not be part of the program. I realized how much I love these guys, how much I love the program, how much I love Coach. We had a really good team coming back, and it felt wrong not being there and not finishing my education like my mom wanted. I felt that if you're a junior and aren't guaranteed the first round, you might as well finish and get your degree. You're that close, and I don't believe in rolling the dice. So I returned to finish my senior year and make some improvements to my game. I called Coach. "I'm sorry for putting you through this, but I want to return for my senior year. We can start the press conference as soon as possible."
The full story will be in the Nov. 11 edition of the magazine.