LOUISVILLE, Ky -- The sun comes up at about 3:30 a.m. in Estonia after a four-hour "night" that barely offers time for enough sleep to recharge the mind and body.
But that's fine for Russ Smith because he always has a lot to do and think about.
The hero of Louisville's 2013 national championship spent a chunk of his summer playing ball for something called the East Coast All-Stars in Tallinn, gladly eschewing the more noteworthy congregations for the chance to travel and hang with a menagerie of D-I, II and III players.
It wasn't a tryout situation; Smith called up coach Guy Rancourt of Lycoming and asked for a spot.
"I wanted to get some international experience," Smith said.
But there was an ulterior motive at work. Not long after Louisville won the national title, Smith did a little detective work and found that the NBA wasn't quite ready for him. Or, maybe, he wasn't ready for the NBA. That meant he had to expand his horizons on the court while he was expanding his mind off it.
And if you know anything about Smith, he is all about growth. His game. His life. His personality. So what if it got light a little early in Estonia. That just meant more time to live.
Last year was a big one for Smith. Not only did the Cardinals win the national title, he stepped into basketball consciousness as more than just the impetuous, shot-taking - and missing - Waffle House-frequenting, "Swagg all the time" character who seemed more responsible for Louisville's travails than for its success.
By the time the season was over, Smith had shaken his reputation as a poor shooter, won the Big East's scholar-athlete award and been a postseason star. He even won the Defensive Efficiency Award from KenPom.com.
"The people in the media said I wasn't efficient," Smith says. "Then I won the award. But that's another bullet for me to bite."
Smith went to Estonia in part to work on his point guard skills because there aren't a lot of 6-0, 165-pound two guards in the NBA. Just imagine someone of Smith's size trying to guard Dwyane Wade. It's not a good idea.
So Smith ran the point at times in Tallinn. Did a pretty good job, too, averaging 4.8 assists and 23 points in three games.
Smith isn't ever going to be a pass-first type, not when there are so many shots out there to be had. But if he isn't a combo-type next spring when the NBA is looking around again, it's the second round for sure.
"It's kind of hard to hear that, but at the end of the day, they're the ones drafting people and writing checks," he said. "I have to deal with it."
That's why Smith had the ball in his hands more in Estonia and will likely do the same thing this season while Louisville newcomers Terry Rozier, a freshman, and Chris Jones, a JC import, learn the team's complicated system.
It's part of the maturation process of someone who continues to grow. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be in college? Spend four years in one place, mature from a precocious 19-year-old into a seasoned 23-year-old and move on to bigger things.
"I don't mind playing point guard at all," Smith said. "Last year, my job was to score, and the only thing I worried about was when my next shot was coming. When you get older, you get wiser.
"Now, I know where my shots are coming from, so I am more comfortable, and I can make the right choices."
- Michael Bradley
1. Russ Smith 6-0 Sr. Louisville
Only "fearless" will do to describe his emotions with the ball.
2. Joe Harris 6-5 Sr. Virginia
If there is a better shooter anywhere, he's on an NBA roster.
3. Gary Harris 6-4 So. Michigan State
It'll be no surprise if he's the 2014 Big Ten POY.
4. Tyler Haws 6-5 Jr. BYU
File him under candidates to lead country in scoring.
5. Spencer Dinwiddie 6-5 Jr. Colorado
He showed off his ample skill with World University team.
6. Rasheed Sulaimon 6-3 So. Duke
Get ready for a breakout season - and then some.
7. Travis Bader 6-5 Sr. Oakland
Twitter handle is @DarthBader3 - gotta love it!
8. Gary Bell 6-1 Jr. Gonzaga
Another reason Bulldogs will continue WCC dominance.
9. C.J. Wilcox 6-5 Sr. Washington
A lot of Nigel Williams-Goss assists will come via his jumpers.
10. Nik Stauskas 6-5 So. Michigan
Is there a better jump shooter in the Big Ten this season?
11. Wayne Blackshear 6-5 Jr. Louisville
Be it as SG or SF, his role will be even bigger for Cards.
12. Ryan Boatwright 6-0 Jr. Connecticut
He's actually a "co-PG" with Shabazz Napier.
13. Markel Brown 6-3 Sr. Oklahoma State
Oooh, he can really dunk - and a whole lot more!
14. Semaj Christon 6-3 So. Xavier
His freshman season offered just a glimpse of what he can be.
15. Jerian Grant 6-5 Sr. Notre Dame
Those must have been some hellacious backyard games at the Grants'.
16. Olivier Hanlan 6-4 So. Boston College
A candidate to lead the "new Big East" in scoring.
17. Corey Hawkins 6-2 Jr. UC Davis
Nod if you remember watching his dad shoot jump shots in the NBA.
18. Brady Heslip 6-4 Sr. Baylor
His jump shooting opens a lot of passing angles for the big Bears.
19. R.J. Hunter 6-5 So. Georgia State
He was the best freshman few heard much about last season.
20. Kareem Jamar 6-5 Sr. Montana
He followed Damian Lillard as Big Sky POY.
21. Nick Johnson 6-3 Jr. Arizona
Best combination of jump shooter and dunker in Pac-12.
22. Sean Kilpatrick 6-4 Sr. Cincinnati
A terrific hoopster who looks like an NFL strong safety.
23. Jermaine Marshall 6-4 Sr. Arizona State
The Penn State transfer adds some pop to ASU attack.
24. Jordan McRae 6-5 Sr. Tennessee
Sure - he could be the best all-around SEC player.
25. Roberto Nelson 6-3 Sr. Oregon State
He's wrapping up what seems like a 10-year stay in Corvallis.
Freshmen of note: James Young, Kentucky; Wayne Selden, Kansas
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