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Pitino: Russ Smith is ’50-50′ on whether to turn pro or return to Louisville

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Russ Smith speaks to Louisville fans on Wednesday (Getty Images)

When Russ Smith stepped to the podium to address the fans during Louisville's victory party on Wednesday evening, the near-capacity crowd at the Yum! Center greeted the junior guard with chants of "one more year."

One day later, it appears there's still hope Cardinals fans may get their wish.

Even though Smith's father told reporters after the national title game Monday night that his son was definitely turning pro, coach Rick Pitino told Sports Radio 790 in Louisville on Thursday morning that the all-conference guard is wavering. Pitino had Smith request feedback from NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson and a few scouts to help make the decision easier.

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"Russ, I think, is 50-50," Pitino said. "He's a very confused young man in terms of his decision right now. He didn't want his dad to say that about him coming out. He wanted time to think a bit. I talked to him yesterday and I said whatever decision you make, I want you to pray on it, but I'm behind it 100 percent.

"I give him fatherly advice. I'm not telling him to stay. I'm not telling him to leave. I give him facts of what it's all about."

It's easy to see why Smith would be torn about his future plans because there are pros and cons to whichever decision he makes.

If he makes himself available for the draft, he may slip out of the first round because he lacks size for a shooting guard and has yet to prove he can create for his teammates as a point guard. If he comes back to Louisville, he'll have the chance to compete for another national title and vie for first-team all-American honors, but he won't be able to improve his point guard skills much with Terry Rozier and Chris Jones set to inherit the position from Peyton Siva.

Regardless of the decision Smith makes, Pitino said he believes his team's backcourt will be formidable.

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Jones was one of the most coveted junior college transfers in the nation. Rozier would have been a top 100 recruit last season before academic issues forced him to attend prep school for a year. Luke Hancock showed his capabilities in Atlanta by being named most outstanding player at the Final Four. And the wildcard is Kevin Ware, who had shown signs of being a future impact player before his broken leg in the Elite Eight.

Between that group of guards and a frontcourt likely to return Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese, Louisville will probably begin next season in the preseason top 10 with or without Smith. Throw Smith's 18.7 points per game into the mix again, and Louisville might vault as high as No. 2 behind only Kentucky.

"Either way, it's not going to affect our team in a negative way because we're very strong in the backcourt," Pitino said.

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