Louisville guard Russ Smith returning to school

Russ Smith will be back for a senior season to defend the Cards' national championship. (USATSI)

Russ Smith is returning to Louisville.

The 6-foot junior guard, who said shortly after the Cardinals won the national championship that he was declaring for the NBA Draft, will come back for his senior season. He made a formal announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

"I love these guys and this team, and I don't want to leave them right now," Smith said at the news conference.

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"I never really got an official goodbye -- and that stuck with me. I wanted to do Senior Night."

Smith, who nearly transferred out of the program after his freshman season, averaged 18.7 points per game this past season and also established himself as one of the top perimeter defenders in the nation.

"I really realized how much I love playing with my teammates and how much fun it is to win," he said. "All the perks of being a national champion. Obviously I wasn't a clear-cut first-round pick, so coming back, for me, it was mainly because coach, my teammates, the Louisville campus, the community, graduating. It was really a lot of things."

Smith was considered by most NBA executives as a second-round pick, and could improve his draft stock next year with improved decision-making.

"The pros of staying were so much better than the pros of leaving," he said. "What was crazy, the pros for me leaving were very immature. You have to put the work in to get better, you have to do this and you have do that, those are all challenges and we both felt I'd be running away from getting better and maturing as a player if I just left. I have new goals and new challenges, and I'll reach them."

His return makes Rick Pitino's team a legitimate contender to win back-to-back national championships. The Cardinals also return Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell -- and will add talented junior college point guard Chris Jones.

"I love to win," Smith said. "With the group we have coming back, I want to go out as a winner, as well as to get my degree."

The Brooklyn native took his game to another level in the NCAA tournament, totaling 134 points in six games. Smith was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest region, and could be an early favorite for All-American honors in 2013-14.

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