This was actually posted on Sports Illustrated’s website yesterday, but in case you missed it, Luke Winn wrote a fantastic piece on Louisville’s most enigmatic and polarizing star. Also, in his Final Four teleconference earlier today, Rick Pitino was asked about coaching guys from other countries. His response?
“Oh it’s great, I love coaching guys like Gorgui. I’ve even got a guy from another planet in Russ Smith.”
Ice cream and time travel….. That’s all I’m saying.
Here’s an excerpt from Winn’s column and you can read the entire piece here.
PHOENIX — The scrawny, maddening star of Louisville’s journey to the Final Four has a nail-biting problem. It’s just one of the many Russ Smith habits that drive Louisville coach Rick Pitino up the wall, but it’s one that the coach took extreme measures to curtail. Earlier this season he asked trainer Fred Hina to purchase a product that typically prevents babies from sucking their thumbs — it’s called Thum — and paint it on Smith’s nails for certain practices, so he’d be less distracted during his coach’s lectures. “He’s always yelling, ‘Russ! Get your fingers out of your mouth!’” said Smith. “But I can’t help it sometimes, and the taste is so nasty — like oil and hot peppers — that it stays in my mouth for 10 minutes.”
Smith told this story as if it were nothing out of the ordinary; in the same manner, he explained that he was up until 2 a.m. on the night before the Cardinals’ Elite Eight game against Florida, “doing push ups and listening to music” while his roommate, center Gorgui Dieng, tried to sleep. This is because nothing the wiry, 6-foot guard from Briarwood, N.Y., does is ordinary: He overflows with so much nervous energy that Pitino likes to say Smith makes coffee nervous.
Pitino is accustomed to Russ-diculousness. He met Smith when he was a Brooklyn seventh-grader attending a Louisville summer camp, and offered him a scholarship as a marginally recruited prep schooler. He took a gamble on a fellow New Yorker, knowing that coaching Smith would not be easy, but that he might develop into an asset in a pressure system. Because Smith has developed — to a degree — Pitino has tolerated the absurdities. Like the day in practice this season when he was alternating between shouting at Smith and sending him to the treadmill as punishment. “He was just very unhappy,” Smith said. “It got to the point where he was in my face yelling, and I was like, ‘Alright, coach, alright coach. What I could really use now is a hug.’
“And everyone was just like, ‘What?’ He looked at me with a shocked face, and so I just gave him a hug and walked away. And he didn’t yell at me for the rest of practice.”