Russ Smith hoping to follow Peyton Siva’s path to NBA

Russ Smith of University of Louisville
Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHICAGO – Russ Smith doesn’t have a sure path to the NBA, but he’s pretty sure about this: He wouldn’t have the shot he has without the influence of Peyton Siva in his life.

Smith led Louisville in scoring each of the past two seasons, averaging 18.7 points as the Cardinals won the 2013 NCAA title and 18.2 as a senior, when some of the playmaking duties that Siva handled so adroitly in their first three seasons together fell to Smith.

He assumed the NBA would welcome him with open arms after his tour de force through the ’13 NCAA tournament – Smith averaged 22.3 on Louisville’s six-game ride – but came to find out the league wasn’t clamoring for 6-foot shooting guards.

“I was devastated,” he said at this week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. “I wasn’t even being talked about in the first round. It was kind of like, ‘Man, I don’t know what I have to do. You win a championship, you’re an All-American, you average 25 points in the tournament against elite competition and you’re gone, right?’

“And I’m not playing against Joe Blows. I’m playing against guys they drafted, lottery picks. I played against first-rounders. My history speaks for itself.”

But the draft process isn’t going to beat Smith down. He saw how Siva carried himself a year ago, earning a draft spot late in the second round with the Pistons when he wasn’t necessarily projected to be taken, and seizing the opportunity to quickly win a roster spot and finish his rookie season with a flourish.

“I’m totally confident. Not just because of Peyton, but Peyton’s (experience) is just a testament of how good a person he is. That’s a guy who wasn’t talked about getting drafted and he got in. He can play and he’s a great guy off the court. He’s no problems, a great locker-room guy. That’s one of those guys you look up to and say you want to be like him.”

Smith says he has and will continue to pick Siva’s brain as he embarks on this six-week journey to the draft, which will include perhaps a few dozen individual workouts for NBA teams from coast to coast. It’s a physically and mentally grueling schedule, which in itself is a test teams use to gauge the mental toughness and willpower of the wide pool of players who are candidates to be taken where Smith is – anywhere from the late first round to off the chart.

“He’s been an integral part of my life,” Smith said of Siva. “He’s one of the most humble guys I’ve ever met. He helped get me through college and helped me with coach (Rick Pitino). I took a lot of criticism with the media, from coach, and being that guy and being the guy to win or lose a game and I’m strong enough to handle it. Most of that goes to Peyton.”

Siva told him to expect to be challenged in the weeks between the combine and the draft, but to enjoy it and not to let it become consuming or overwhelming.

“He said it would be a lot of work – not excruciating, but mentally fatiguing and you’ve just got to get your rest and do all the right things. It means something because they’re words that come from Peyton and everything he’s about.”

Just as Siva’s resume and production overcame whatever concerns scouts had about physical limitations when the Pistons grabbed him with the 56th pick, Smith’s selling point to the NBA is his game tape on college basketball’s biggest stage and the numbers he put up at one of the nation’s elite programs.

To those who criticize him as an out-of-control gunslinger – the “Russdiculous” persona – Smith counters with a compelling argument.

“I averaged 13 shots a game this year and at the end of the day, I was the most efficient player in the country the last two years in Ken Pomeroy (an efficiency rating based on a compilation formula). For somebody to say I just run around and jack shots, that’s kind of mocking my game.

“That’s really disrespectful. I work hard, I play both ends of the floor. This year I shot 48 percent from the floor and I shot 40 percent from the 3-point line and I averaged five assists. Last year, maybe you could pull that card, but I still was the most efficient player in the country. So when you say that, you’ve got to say it low key. This year, I don’t think there’s any room for anyone to discuss that. And I made my teammates better.”

That’s a trait he observed in Siva and adopted as his own.

“He was selfless. He was team first. He cared about how the team played and he cared about others. He cared about me and he knew that he needed us for him to be good. That’s the thing – he’s very selfish as far as his teammates. He wants all of them to do good so he can do good, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

It was a trait that won over Siva’s young teammates, Andre Drummond foremost, in Summer League within days of the 2013 draft, and something that moved the Detroit front office to quickly ink Siva to a contract that guaranteed him a roster spot, an unusual move for a late second-rounder. In Louisville, no one was surprised, Russ Smith least of all. He’s hoping to walk the same path to the NBA.