Louisville will get an important piece of its NCAA championship team back next season when junior guard Russ Smith returns to campus.
“Russ is going to come back for his senior year,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino told reporters Wednesday.
Pitino told reporters that Smith wants to graduate, become a first-team All-American and move up into the first round of the NBA Draft, according to Eric Crawford.
“I love to win,” Smith said. “With the group we have coming back, I want to go out as a winner, and to graduate.”
Smith said he wasn’t sure of his decision “until I woke up this morning.”
“The pros of staying were so much better than the pros of leaving,” he said. “What was crazy, the pros for me leaving were all immature.
“I felt like I’d be running away from getting better and maturing as a player if I left. . . . Now I have new goals, new challenges.”
The news was first reported by CBSSports.com.
“I personally think he would benefit by staying because he improved,” Pitino recently told ESPNU. “As a freshman he was an erratic player, totally out of control. As a sophomore, he was an up-and-down player, totally committed to learning how to play the game. And this year he was brilliant.
“So he can only get better by staying. He’s 165 pounds, I’d like to get him up to 180. Very good athlete. If it wasn’t for Russ Smith we don’t go to a Final Four last year and we don’t win a championship this year.”
The Brooklyn native averaged 18.7 points per game but was projected as a second-round pick.
Louisville will lose Peyton Siva to graduation and Gorgui Dieng to the NBA Draft, but brings in JUCO point guard Chris Jones to pair in the backcourt with Smith.
Forwards Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell return, as do wings Luke Hancock , Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware.
Louisville should challenge Kentucky and the other top teams for the NCAA crown in 2014.
**Who’s In and Who’s Out of the NBA Draft? Read more here.