The return of Russdiculous

HONESTLY, I THOUGHT I was going to be a first-rounder. A lock. I honestly thought that. I wanted to leave because I thought I did everything I could at the collegiate level. And when I talked to Coach Pitino, he told me, "You had a great year, you should try to test the waters."

But I didn't get the feedback I expected. People said I'd go 30 to 40, that there were doubts. It was pretty disappointing to be humbled like that. He's this, he's that, he can't do this, he doesn't have good efficiency. I was sitting there thinking, I won the efficiency award for Player of the Year but I'm inefficient?

It's frustrating for someone like me, because you want to do everything you can to impact the game, but the scouts don't want to see that. But what they don't understand is that I have to do that in order for us to win. It's hard for Coach to say, "You play defense, you play offense, but you have to come back because you didn't have a good assist-to-turnover ratio." Wow, are you serious? I was critiqued unfairly. If you talk about me as a point guard, obviously other guards had a better ratio, but I wasn't playing that position. That wasn't my job. My job was to win games, and that means putting the ball into the basket. A better assist-to-turnover ratio would've helped me, but I don't play for me, I play for the team, and if I have to take some ill-advised shots to kick-start the team, well, I'm not about to leave these guys stranded because I'm only focused on improving my draft stock.

I didn't know what I was going to do. It felt like I was in purgatory. And then I thought more about it. It felt weird to leave my teammates and not be part of the program. I realized how much I love these guys, how much I love the program, how much I love Coach. We had a really good team coming back, and it felt wrong not being there and not finishing my education like my mom wanted. I felt that if you're a junior and aren't guaranteed the first round, you might as well finish and get your degree. You're that close, and I don't believe in rolling the dice. So I returned to finish my senior year and make some improvements to my game. I called Coach. "I'm sorry for putting you through this, but I want to return for my senior year. We can start the press conference as soon as possible."

Now I realize there are things beyond your control. You can't go out and be stubborn and say, "I'm going to leave college and go to the NBA. I'm going to show 'em!" I had the numbers, and I wanted a shot. I wanted somebody to take a chance on me and make me a first-rounder, but that wasn't the case, and so I learned the business side the hard way. They're going to pick whomever they want, whoever they feel is the better prospect. No company -- I don't care if you're McDonald's or Nokia -- is going to invest in anything that isn't proven. That's how I have to look at it, rather than, "I get buckets, I score, I shoot 80 percent at the line, so what if I'm off-balance?" That's something I had to learn and be mature about. It's not necessarily who has the better numbers. It all depends on which player is going to help that specific professional team. That's why I don't take anything personally.

I'm just happy I got the opportunity to be recognized. In high school, I was never recognized. Nobody thought about me enough to critique or judge me. I didn't get any hype or publicity. Nobody even knew I committed to Louisville. That hurt. But I'm a winner. I've been on a Final Four team. I was on a national championship team. I contributed heavily on offense and defense. But I have no motivation to prove people wrong. I'm just playing for my teammates and playing for Coach. So I move on and look forward to doing what we do best, which is win.

This year I want to learn more of the logistics and fundamentals of the game. I've been a great scorer at this level, but often I played off sheer talent. Plus, I love this university. I love college. College is fun, and I want to enjoy all four years. Yeah, I've always wanted to play in the NBA, but that's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried about winning another NCAA title, getting to another Final Four, being with my teammates and having the best experience I can as a college student.

I have the chance to be a leader this year. I get to show young guys how to play Coach Pitino basketball. I get to be a big brother. I've been an immature player all my life. It was mostly about me all the time, and I was very selfish. But last year I realized how much you need a team to win. Our school finds players who are hungry and want to get better and want to win and buy into the system and always play hard. Our coaches do a great job recruiting players and not just names, recruiting competitors and guys with a chip on their shoulder, not just top players at big high schools or guys with a lot of hype and publicity. Here, you have to bring your game -- not your name. That's what Coach P and Louisville are about: winning -- whatever way we get it done. It's Hall of Fame Coach P basketball. Anything he needs me to do, anything he wants me to do, I do it. "I need you to go out there and get nine rebounds for me." I'm going to go out there and try to get 11. That's how I play ball.

If I finish this year and don't get drafted, I'll look back and think I had a great college career -- national champion, Final Four, I did the unthinkable. Nobody thought I would play. Nobody thought I would ever step onto the court. All the scouting services had me at two stars; I started playing and they moved me up. I'll just look back on what I've done here and my history here. I've treated my time and everybody here positively, and I'll keep coming back to this city that showed me the support and the love I needed and took care of me. If I don't get drafted, I'll have a professional career someplace else and help others get better. I'll have a college degree, I'll have great connections, I've made tremendous friends and contacts. It won't be too hard for me to make a living without basketball. But I love playing, so even though I'm always going to be fine, if I get drafted, it'll be the happiest thing. I'll be so thankful. Even if I'm the last pick. Because who would have thought a guy like me would make it that far?

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