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