By LARRY VAUGHT
INDIANAPOLIS — He had just played his final game of a legendary career at Louisville and missed a potential shot that could have forced overtime, but Louisville senior Russ Smith was as gracious in defeat as any All-American could be here Friday.
“I don’t hold grudges. I don’t hate anybody,” said Smith after Louisville’s 74-69 loss to Kentucky when the Cardinals blew a seven-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes. “I’m a positive person. At the end of they day, this was a loss. I just empathize with the fans. I wish I could’ve given them the win. I’m so sorry. But for me, we lost to a great team. And I have great respect for them.”
Several reports indicated that Smith went to the UK locker room to congratulate the Cats, a classy move after his 23-point, three-assist performance.
“I’m just glad that I have a lot of respect around the state and people respect my craft and my body of work. I love my teammates. I’m glad that I’ve gotten to meet all the people I’ve met. And I’m glad I have coach (Rick) Pitino in my life. He’s helped shape me into a man. He’s made me the player I am,” Smith said.
“I was looked at as kind of a clown basketball player. Everyone thought I was a joke. And he transformed me into an All-American basketball player. Without him in my life, I’d be upset right now, off crying, or yelling or making excuses. But I’m here in front of you, manning up. I take this loss like a man and I’ll go out like a man.”
He praised Kentucky.
“Those are a great group of guys. They show great love. You respect someone when you see a competitor out there on the court,” Smith said. “From each class, from my sophomore year on, Kentucky’s guys have shown me the same love. And these are new waves of classes, not the same people. So I’ve gotten great respect from them, potential NBA guys, and that’s great.
“The (Harrison) twins are fantastic and they’re going to keep getting better. All those guys. (James) Young, (Julius) Randle. Dakari (Johnson), I’ve known him since he was little and I’m excited for what he’s becoming, and you have to love that.
“If my career had to end, I’m okay with it ending to Kentucky. Those boys play hard. They deserve everything that’s coming to them. I respect everything about their program and their coaching staff. For me, I just want people to remember me as a great competitor, a great sportsman, someone who respects the game a lot, and whatever it is, I just want it to be a positive legacy.”