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“I was leaving, but I talked to my dad and decided to come back,” Smith remembered. “I decided to work hard and try to earn some minutes.”

He still gets into it with Pitino from time to time _ remember, the coach dubbed him “Russdiculous” for some of the shots he puts up _ but it’s hard to envision where this team might be without him.

“I just try to make winning plays,” Smith said. “I don’t look at myself as a point guard or a shooting guard. I look at myself as a winning player.”

Pitino has tried to stress to his players the importance of winning one more game. They may hang a banner for making it to the Final Four at Louisville, too, but the best way to ensure you don’t get overlooked is to win it all.

To drive that point home, he showed his team the recent documentary on North Carolina State’s improbable title in 1983, the one that left coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking desperately for someone to hug, the one that his players still get together to reminisce about _ on and off camera.

“We were the No. 1 seeds. We weren’t Cinderellas like N.C. State,” Pitino said. “But I wanted them to understand that because (the Wolfpack) won a championship, for the rest of their lives they will sit around that table. Every year, they will get together _ for the rest of their lives.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963