NEW ORLEANS - Doron Lamb was always the quiet one, content to let his game do the talking for him. Russ Smith was the polar opposite, the one with the rapid-fire mouth to match his itchy trigger finger on the court.
Somehow, as different as they were the two basketball players who grew up playing together on the New York City playgrounds and later with the famed AAU team the New York Gauchos formed a friendship that remains to this day. Now they'll step onto the stage together Saturday night at the Final Four in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Back then the very idea of reaching this level, and finding the other one there waiting, was the stuff of fantasy.
“I don't know how to describe it,” Smith said Friday. “It would be like walking with a herd of people, 10 miles with no water and at the end of the road there are only three people walking. You're the only three people left and you look at each other and go, 'We're the only people left.' That's how me and Doron and (Florida's) Erving Walker, who I played in the Elite Eight, feel. We're just definitely happy to be in the position we are.”
With the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry bubbling over this week the only people who seem unaffected by the hype and drama are the players. In addition to Smith and Lamb's longtime friendship, Peyton Siva and Terrence Jones have been friends since their youth. Wayne Blackshear and Anthony Davis faced off in the Chicago prep leagues. Chance Behanan remains close with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. To all of them, the enormity of the showdown at the Final Four is lost in the fact it's just a basketball game.
"We don’t really talk about the game,” Lamb said of he and Smith. “We talk about going back to New York after the season. We’re looking forward to going back, but we’ve got to finish this season off. I’m trying to win the whole thing."
When talk turns to their days in New York City, Lamb and Smith have no problem recalling the fun they used to share.
"Russ was crazy back when he was young,” Lamb said. “I didn’t want to play on his team because he wouldn’t pass the ball. I never played him against him, though. When I played against him, he shot the ball every time. They called him a little nut. He shot the ball every time."
“Doron was always the more laid back player, the silent killer,” Smith countered. “He could end the game with 18 or 20 points and you wouldn't know until you looked at the scoreboard. I'm not surprised (he's here) at all because he's been doing it his whole life and at a high level. He doesn't miss many shots and he doesn't really take a high volume either so when he's finishing with 24 points he's really accurate.”
The two friends will be enemies for 40 minutes on Saturday, but they'll have a story to share when they reconvene in New York down the road.
No. 4 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 1 KENTUCKY
Final Four – National Semifinals
When: 6:09 p.m.; Saturday, Mar. 31
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome; New Orleans
TV: CBS; Radio: UK IMG Network
Last Meeting: Dec. 31, 2011 - @Kentucky 69, Louisville 62
Records: Louisville (30-9); Kentucky (36-2)