The leading scorer on Louisville's NCAA Championship team is returning to school for his senior season. Junior guard Russ Smith announced his decision Wednesday on the UofL campus.
"I love to win, and, with the group coming back, I want to go out a winner again," Smith said.
Smith led the Cards this season, scoring 748 points and averaging 18.7 points per game. He was named one of the top 15 players in the nation, being selected a third team All-American by the Associated Press.
Smith: "I think next season is going to be special, and I have an opportunity to defend a title which is rare."
Smith took his play to another level in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 25 points and three steals in the Cardinals' first five NCAA Tournament games. He scored 27 points to lead the Cards over Colorado State and then scored a career-high 31 points against Oregon in the regional semifinals.
Against Duke, Smith scored a game-high 23 points in the Midwest Region championship game on his way to earning the region's Most Outstanding Player honors.
Smith scored 20 or more in a game on 19 occasions this year, including seven of his eight postseason games. He led the Cardinals with 21 points against Wichita State and broke Darrell Griffith's school record for points in the NCAAs.
"Russ told me, 'Nobody in my family has graduated college and I want to do that,'" coach Rick Pitino said.
The Brooklyn native didn't play his best in the NCAA Championship game. He scored just 9 points and missed 13-of-16 in Louisville's title game win over Michigan.
He averaged 18.7 points in 10 career NCAA Tournament games during his career.
"The pros want to see a different Russ Smith - 10 more pounds of muscle, better shot selection and higher A-TO ratio," Pitino said.
Then at the other end of the court there is his menacing defensive presence. Smith has 183 steals for his career and broke into the career top 10 at Louisville. His 87 steals last season set a new UofL record and his 83 this year are the eighth-most in a single-season.