Louisville native Russell gives credit to hometown

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2014 

McDonald's All American Games Basketball

McDonald's East All-American D'Angelo Russell, of Louisville, Ky., competes in the three-point shootout during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest at the University of Chicago in Chicago, on Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

ANDREW NELLES — AP

CHICAGO — Make no mistake, D'Angelo Russell is a product of Louisville, Kentucky.

He's played his last three seasons of high school basketball in Florida. He'll play his college ball at Ohio State. Then, if everything goes according to plan, he'll play for some NBA team in some state that's not Kentucky.

But, according to him, it's the Bluegrass State that will get him there.

Russell is in his senior season at Montverde Academy in Florida, the school he transferred to after his freshman year at Central High School in Louisville. At Montverde, he's learned from Coach Kevin Boyle and played alongside guys like UK's Dakari Johnson and Florida's Kasey Hill.

His time in Florida has been well spent, but he doesn't want these last three seasons to define him.

"It's just that Florida is getting the credit for what I've done, when it's definitely Louisville," Russell said. "And people start thinking I'm from Florida, when really I'm from Kentucky. I'm from Louisville, Kentucky. And I feel like the people that have worked me out and gotten me to the point where I am today, they're from Louisville."

Russell's family and many of his earliest basketball mentors still live in Louisville. It's a city he's proud of, and it's a city that he wants to be identified with, hopefully remembered by.

"People know Darrell Griffith, Rajon Rondo, Muhammad Ali. I want to be the next one on the list," he said. "So when people name those icons in our state, I want to be known as one of those icons. I don't want to be known as the person that came out of Florida."

Russell — a 6-foot-5 guard — was in Chicago for the McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday night. That game — at the United Center — was to be his first in an NBA arena. On Thursday, he'll play in Madison Square Garden in a national tournament featuring eight of the best teams in the country, an event Montverde won last season. Later this month, he'll be in the Jordan Brand Classic at the Barclays Center — home of the Brooklyn Nets.

'Target on our backs'

Many college basketball observers expect Duke to be the preseason No. 1 team next season, in part due to the Blue Devils' No. 1 recruiting class stacked with McDonald's All-Americans.

Sound familiar?

Point guard Tyus Jones — one of four Duke signees in the McDonald's Game — said he has been keeping an eye on Kentucky since the beginning of the season in preparation for what's coming his way next fall.

"I did. Just because I knew the class we had would be somewhat similar," he said. "I definitely have watched them."

Jones — a UK recruit at one time — has learned from the experience of watching this season's young Wildcats. And he knows not to get caught up in the number in front of Duke's name when the preseason poll comes out.

"There's nothing we can really do about it," he said. "People are going to have their expectations, and all we can do is go in there and work hard. If we're the preseason No. 1 team, that means we'll have a target on our backs. We have to go in there ready to work. Ready to stick together as a team, and hopefully have a great season."

Stanley likes the Cats

Arizona signee Stanley Johnson was asked for his Final Four predictions Tuesday, and his response came as a bit of a surprise.

"I had Kentucky winning it all in my bracket," he proudly declared.

Before the NCAA Tournament started? "Yeah, I had Kentucky winning it all."

Suffice to say, Johnson is sticking with the Wildcats. He acknowledged that he actually filled out four brackets this year — one with Kentucky going all the way, and the other three with Arizona winning.

Johnson committed to Arizona over UK last November.

SEC drought

The Southeastern Conference was represented by four players in this year's McDonald's game — all headed to the University of Kentucky.

This is the first time since 2006 that multiple SEC schools were not represented in the all-star event.

Last year, the conference combined for a total of 10 McDonald's All-Americans from four different schools — a record six from Kentucky.

Expect multiple SEC schools to be represented again next year. Louisiana State already has a commitment from Ben Simmons — the No. 4 overall prospect in the class of 2015. And Chicago star and top-15 player Charles Matthews is committed to UK.

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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