From his days at playing high school ball in Queens, N.Y., where he led the Catholic league in scoring for two consecutive seasons, to developing from a freshman that played less than 100 total minutes into a consensus All-American as a senior, Smith has always proven that he has what it takes to succeed.
His achievements, which includes a national championship, a pair of Final Fours and multiple conference titles, along with stellar pre-draft workouts didn't elevate his stock out of the second round. Selected as the 47th pick by the Philadelphia 76er's and immediately traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, Smith echoed similar words moments after learning of his next destination.
"What else do you want me to prove?" Smith said last month. "I don't know what I have to do to gain respect. You can't make everybody happy, but I'm going to make everybody happy one day."
On Wednesday, Smith, along with his many supporters were excited to learn that the Pelicans extended a guaranteed contract. His former head coach says now is the time to forget the doubters and start proving that the many that do believe in him are right.
“I wasn't too pleased with his reaction to being drafted in the second round, because I go back to when there was ten rounds,” University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said on Wednesday. “I told Russ, 'you came in here as a non-recruited as a basketball player at the major level. Not one Big East school recruited you. You ended up one of the most popular players to play here, a consensus All-American with multiple championships at the conference level and a national championship and your first response is that you are going to prove people wrong? There's two ways of looking at things: you can say I'm going to prove people wrong or I'm going to prove people right.'
“What I said is, 'you need to prove people right. That's all the people in Louisville that believe in your skills and talents, all the people that have believed in you, from family members and coaches, and on.”
While he didn't have a pre-draft workout with the Pelicans, Smith did have a positive interview with the franchise.
“They did their homework,” Pitino said. “They know what Russ is all about. He had a great interview with them. Russ, besides being a very talented young man, he's a big-time winner and a big-time person.”
Speaking soon after becoming an official member of the New Orleans roster, Smith expressed his determination to help his new team win.
“I look at it that doing whatever it takes to win,” he said. “I just want to contribute and that's been my main goal since being a high school guy. To come into a program trying to compete to win, compete to play hard and compete to earn the trust and respect of coach.”
In New Orleans, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard will team up with a pair of former Kentucky rivals in Anthony Davis and Darius Miller. The Pelicans will face the Miami Heat in an exhibition game at the KFC Yum! Center on October 4.
“At the NBA level, it only takes one team to believe in your talent,” Pitino said. “We were always convinced that Russ Smith would be an outstanding pro because he can do so many different things. Obviously, when exhibition season starts the Pelicans come and play the Miami Heat, our fans will be in for a big treat watching Russ in a Pelican uniform.”
Smith, who constantly displayed his ability to be a game-changer on both ends of the court, remains confident as he begins working out as an NBA player.
“I think I can help defensively,” he explained. “I'll do whatever I can and do whatever it takes to compete defensively. I feel like I can put the ball in the basket if given the opportunity and I can make plays on the offensive end, coming off the ball screen, pushing it in transition and make some good decisions. I think I can shoot the ball pretty well, so I think I'm pretty dynamic enough to be able to contribute in certain areas if needed. I'm just here to win, so whatever it takes to win I'll be happy to fill that role.”
Like Cardinal fans and many fans of college basketball across the globe, Pitino smiled as he spoke of Smith's contract.
“I couldn't be anymore pleased for this young man right now.”