LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Worried that he might become emotional, Russ Smith simply basked in the energy of a proud moment.
Louisville's former All-America guard flashed a huge smile on Saturday as a black curtain was pulled back to reveal his No. 2 jersey hanging from the KFC Yum! Center rafters next to four other Cardinal men's basketball greats. Smith joins an exclusive group including Wes Unseld (31), Darrell Griffith (35), Pervis Ellison (42) and Charlie Tyra (8), and he thanked a charged crowd for supporting him as he made his dream possible.
“You guys have always had my back,” Smith during the halftime ceremony that included his family. “But it ain't gonna stop here. We're gonna go up all night, we're gonna get turnt up and turn this season around.”
The 6-foot Brooklyn, New York, native, nicknamed “Russdiculous,” led Louisville to the 2013 NCAA championship and 2012 Final Four, appearances that were later vacated. He is the only Cardinals player with at least 1,800 career points, 350 assists and 250 steals.
Tributes to the fun-loving Smith throughout the game included video congratulations from former teammates including Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric. A huge cheer erupted when former Louisville coach Rick Pitino appeared onscreen to point out that no Big East or Power 5 school recruited Smith.
The Hall of Fame coach, who's now at Iona, said no other player made him laugh or cry as much as Smith before adding, “Certainly, I don't think I could love a player any more than I love you. Congratulations, son.”