By Patrick McCormack
Russ Smith did not watch much of this year’s NBA draft.
Instead, he was at the Yum KFC Center, the home of the Louisville Cardinals, just waiting to hear his name.
He didn’t have to wait too long.
The Archbishop Molloy graduate’s dream of being picked to join an NBA team came true when he was drafted in the second round with the 47th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. Shortly afterward, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for guard Pierre Jackson.
That didn’t dampen Smith’s mood.
“It was a lot of fun. When I was watching, I couldn’t wait to get picked,” Smith said. “I was thinking I would go mid- to late second [round], so it caught me by surprise. I am just happy to be in this situation.”
Even with his success with the Cardinals, there were those in the league who doubted Smith. But the questioning of his abilities only motivated him.
“People talk, I am just going to handle my business and play as hard as I can,” he said.
Smith, who remained at Louisville for his senior season in 2013-14, will start his pro career in New Orleans, where he participated in the 2012 Final Four. He plans to play his style of basketball and hopes to help the Pelicans win.
“Some of my goals are to get recognized for what I can do and just try and get an opportunity to get on the court,” Smith said. “Definitely play hard, that’s my goal since day one.”
The two-time CHSAA leading scorer received help early on from legendary Stanners Coach Jack Curran, who was able to give him a special type of guidance. Curran, who died in March 2013, always believed in Smith.
“It helped me a lot because [Curran] taught me things, a lot of other coaches do not,” Smith said. “He preached wisdom and kindness to others and always being happy. Other coaches come across like that, but Curran preached that, and it helped me stay happy.”
Along with the opportunity to play basketball in New York City, Smith believed that growing up in Brooklyn enabled him to develop into the player he is today.
“Definitely the commute of being in Brooklyn and going to Queens every day helped,” he said. “Brooklyn being tough and just all the stuff you hear about basketball prepared me.”
After high school, Smith went to Louisville, where he won a National Championship in 2013 and averaged 18.2 points per game this season while leading the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
Participating in some of the top conferences and in the NCAA tournament has helped Smith prepare his game for the NBA, he said.
“I think playing against superior talent every night and playing against guys who are always good helped me,” Smith said. “I think that challenge shaped me into a better person.”