Louisville junior guard Russ Smith is returning to school, giving coach Rick Pitino and the Cardinals a shot at back-to-back national championships.
"I really realized how much I enjoyed playing with my teammates and how much fun it is to win," he said at a press conference Wednesday, following Pitino's opening remarks.
Smith led the team in scoring with 18.6 points per game and helped spark the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament to a national title in Atlanta.
"When he leaves," Pitino said, "he is going to be one of the most successful Louisville basketball players ever."
Smith had said earlier this week he was losing sleep over whether he should enter the NBA draft or play his final season in college. He was aggressively seeking input from players and coaches, including a meeting with Pitino Tuesday. Many in the NBA said Smith could use another year in school; he was widely projected as a second-round pick.
For now, Smith, who turned 22 last week, can focus on defending a championship with an impresssive lineup and further develop his 6-1, 165-pound frame. Pitino said he challenged Smith to add about 10 pounds of muscle before next season. Smith's goal is to be a first-round pick.
"If I were to leave, I'm leaving behind a great fan base," Smith told WDRB in Louisville on Monday. "I'm leaving behind my education. I'm leaving behind some accolades I could get. I'm leaving behind my teammates. But if I stay, I'm leaving behind a year of potentially starting my career somewhere."
Junior center Gorgui Dieng has entered the 2013 NBA Draft. Sixth man Luke Hancock, also a junior, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware will return to Louisville.
Ware said Tuesday he was ahead of schedule in his recovery from the gruesome right leg injury suffered in the Midwest regional final against Duke.
Smith weighed every angle, and said he was reminded of Louisville seeking him out four years ago when he ultimately chose to stick around.