Russell looking to make his game meaner

INDIANAPOLIS — The first thing you notice about D’Angelo Russell’s game is how smooth it is.

Every move seems fluid. Effortless. He has a lithe, 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame that can slide through the small crevices in defenses, and once he passes through them he can score at the rim with a soft touch with either hand. His handle is every bit slick enough to allow him to do that while putting the ball on the floor. The left-hander’s jumper is one of those that conjures adjectives like “silky” and “feathery” in the minds and mouths of observers.

And his persona fits his game. He’s baby-faced and reserved, but never seems to be uncomfortable, even among the media hordes that swarm for events like this week’s Adidas Invitational.

But Russell — a Louisville, Ky., native, Indiana target and No. 10 rated player in the Class of 2014 – is being told from just about every angle that he’s a little bit too smooth. His father, his coach at Monteverde Academy in Florida and Ellis Myles, his summer travel coach with the Louisville Magic, have all made it clear to him that his national ranking is meaningless if he doesn’t continue to develop some rough edges to his game and some grit.

After barely playing during his high school season, Russell said the message is starting to take.

“I would come out there too cool,” he said. “I was too comfortable. I just need to be going out there every time and diving on the floor. Hard fouls if I foul somebody. Just stuff like that. I knew I had it in me. I was just too comfortable.”

Russell’s father Antonio and Myles warned him about that a few years ago when they noticed that he seemed a little too concerned and also a little too satisfied with the fact that he had a high national ranking. He needed to be a little more forceful on offense at times, they said, but more importantly, he needed to motivate himself to be a better defender and rebounder.

“It’s been an issue since the first year I had him,” said Myles, the baritone-voiced former Louisville player. “Trying to motivate him to play defense and not give up that easy bucket when I’m hollering at him that everybody can make 3-point shots now. … I think he believes that he was mean and tough already.”

But at Monteverde — to which he transferred from Louisville Central before the season — he learned that coach Kevin Boyle and the rest of the coaching staff didn’t think so, and that they had enough talent that they didn’t need to concern themselves with his national ranking. His minutes were sporadic, he said, and there were games when he didn’t even play.

“It’s like college,” Russell said. “You gotta play defense to be on the floor, and I guess I didn’t bring it every day in practice. … They were just like, I wasn’t mean enough.”

Russell said he took that to heart and worked to make sure he was being competitive every time. This spring and summer he’s made more of a point to listen to the ever-forceful Myles whenever the coach has told him he’s not playing with enough of a nasty streak.

“He’s opened my game up as much as possible,” Russell said. “Just me being competitive and just going out there every time and competing every time. If I’m not competing, I’m on the bench regardless of what my name is, my rank is. He just helps me stay humble.”

Myles said he’s starting to see the product of that humility. He’s not nearly the lock-down perimeter defender that his 6-foot-9 wingspan makes him capable of being, Myles said, but he’s coming along.

“He had eight rebounds (in a game Wednesday night),” Myles said. “That’s something I haven’t seen since I’ve had him. Him playing defense and rebounding the ball, that’s making him a real elite player.”

Even before that improved, Russell was already drawing a lot of attention. Along with his scholarship offer from Indiana — which he said he is strongly considering — he has offers from Cincinnati, Louisville, Missouri, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Virginia and Xavier. Kentucky and North Carolina have both expressed interest.

But he believes he’s capable of more. He thinks being the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 is a reachable goal by the end of his high school career, and for as much as he’s harped on him, so does Myles.

“He’s 16-years-old, two years away,” Myles said. “A lot of guys are reclassifying into that 2013 class. I think it can happen that way.”

But only if his game keeps getting a little more rough.

7 comments

  1. Dustin-

    I really thought you wrote a silky smooth opening paragraph to this recruiting story. Actually, the entire piece moved with a fluid ease and naturalness.

    Always knew you were a hard worker, but now you’re really beginning to hone your craft. Nice work.

  2. Agreed, nice writing.

    First, it made me picture D’Angelo. Then, it made me picture IU’s current Director of Basketball Operations and that picturesque one-dribble pull-up jumper he had. Then, I pictured that little nasty-as-u-wanna’-be stand-off moment between our current DoB and a Louisville player in the tournament. Then, finally, I pictured our current DoB with his arm around D’Angelo’s shoulder, saying, “Come and learn, son.”

  3. Dustin: agreed, really stylish piece. Nicely crafted words and images.

    Guest: Boom,baby! I’ll never forget the Cheaney-Dwayne Morton stand-off. And I’ll never forget watching it at Kilroy’s on College. And I’ll never forget how after that Calbert scored about 20 and Morton about 6, as IU blew open a close game and won by about 13-15. Sweet 16 ’93. Of course, I’ll also never forget the next game, still the single biggest disappointment I’ve had as an IU fan. If only Henderson hadn’t gotten hurt. But I digress.

    Dustin, I’d like some more profiles of these prospects. It’ll give you a chance to show off your silky style and effortless grace.

  4. You mean Director of Internal and External Player Development…

    You should be ashamed of the oversight.

  5. In my memory, the sky was all bleak gray the day the ACL was torn, and a cold north wind howled. I’ve never had ANY doubt IU wins it all in ’93. None at all. (Of course, they might still have managed it, had IU’s depleted post-depth not been forced to play Kansas in the regional, a team that featured, as I recall, 19 players who were at least 6’8″ and 275 lbs…it was the single worst possible match-up of the tournament, every bit as bad a piece of luck as drawing T. Valentine as an official in the semifinals the year prior.)

    Geoff…you’re right but the problem is that:
    Director of Basketball Operations = DoB
    Director of Internal and External Player Development = DIEPrD

    Perhaps wholly appropriate, when pronounced phonetically, but nowhere near as impressive, when read silently.

    However, it’s not for me to mess with any man’s title, let alone THE man’s…so, I guess I’ll just have to spell it out from now on.

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