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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Russ Smith decision could go either way

By Eamonn Brennan

On Monday, WDRB's Eric Crawford reported via Twitter that Louisville guard Russ Smith was hoping to make his NBA draft decision by Wednesday. Immediately following Louisville's national title win, Smith's father told media his son's title was the right way to "go out." Louisville coach Rick Pitino soon after stated that Smith was more up in the air than his father let on. The decision doesn't appear to be any more settled as of late. Smith told Crawford he's been "losing sleep" over it. Understandably so.

But if Smith truly is 50-50 at this (relatively) late date, you can hardly blame him. Indeed, I'm not sure I can remember a more balanced and obvious set of pros and cons for a draft prospect in recent seasons.

Louisville's Russ Smith
Louisville guard Russ Smith still has a decision to make regarding his future.
Consider the pros of staying: Smith could come back and play for a national title contender. He could possibly round some of the things in his game (outside shooting) that continue to hold him back as a prospect. He could boost his status, which right now remains meager. And he could do all of this by setting the historical record straight, because Smith was pretty underrated this season. It's not hard to figure out why: A good portion of his value came on the defensive end, which is less gaudy to casual national player of the year voters than offensive statistics, particularly for perimeter players. Plus, he had a knack for playing his worst (and his most Russdiculous) when the lights were brightest -- during the Final Four and five overtimes against Notre Dame, in particular.

He could also come back and take on Kentucky's insanely talented group, which sounds like the kind of competitive challenge a guy like Smith might relish. If he plays like the best player in the country -- which he was this season, per Ken Pomeroy's metrics -- and more people spend less time noticing the outlier crazy decisions and more time noticing a 109 offensive rating on 32 percent usage (with a low turnover rate to boot!) ... well, why can't Smith be a first-round pick? When's the last time a college POY didn't go in the first round?

The cons, of course, are just as obvious. Smith just won the national title, so there's no unfinished business to speak of. He isn't guaranteed to improve his draft stock, because he isn't guaranteed to improve enough to improve perception, or merely improve the perception itself (which, let's just avoid that philosophical path altogether). And also, you know, next year's draft is crazy. Smith could have a really great year and still look less tantalizing when viewed in comparison to Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker and Kentucky's eight McDonald's All-Americans.

And then there are all the personal reasons on both sides of the ledger. Pressure from friends and family? Pressure from coaches? Teammates? Desire to fulfill a dream? It all plays a role.

As of right now, Smith is widely considered a fringe first-round pick. If the draft were held 100 times today, I bet he'd split the difference between "late first" and "early second" something close to 50 times apiece. As someone who can barely decide what to eat for lunch, I empathize deeply. No wonder the kid can't sleep.