No one was happier to see Louisville native D’Angelo Russell’s incredible success come to a head Thursday night than his former high school coach.
Central’s Doug Bibby, who coached Russell during his freshman season before he left to play for a Florida prep school, said Friday at Rajon Rondo’s annual youth basketball camp that he considers Russell a part of the family and was overjoyed to see him drafted No. 2 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I’m so proud of him,” Bibby said.
The Rondo camp drew 305 youngsters – the eighth straight year it’s been a sellout – and Bibby, a camp organizer, said Friday’s session had extra buzz because of the success of Russell the night before at the draft. He joins established NBA vet Rondo in making “two hometown guys doing big things.”
“It’s just a festive week,” said Bibby, who formerly coached Rondo at Eastern High School.
Russell was sublime in his lone season at Ohio State, and Bibby expects big things right off the bat again in Russell’s NBA rookie year.
“I think D’Angelo is a game-changer from the start,” he said. “His upside is incredible, but where he is right now, he’s the type of kid that comes in right off the bat and is an impact player. The big thing about the point guards in the Western Conference is not only can they handle and pass, but they can knock down the 3. I think he fits really well with the Western Conference.”
Bibby said Rondo hit his stride with the Boston Celtics after having a year to learn the ropes from stars like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and he thinks Russell will benefit similarly from playing alongside Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
“He’s going to be a veteran by the time he’s a third-year player,” Bibby said. “With his skill set, his mental capacities and his abilities, he’s going to be an All-Star point guard.”
Bibby said he’s maintained a “great relationship” with Russell since his departure to Montverde Academy in Florida after his freshman year of high school. He said whenever Russell was home, he’d check out the Yellowjackets’ practices and summer league games.
“I told him he’s always going to be part of the Central family,” Bibby said.
Even though Russell didn’t attend the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky, Bibby said he believes the city “embraces” and “loves” D’Angelo.
“If they don’t embrace him, it’s just being selfish because you wanted him for UK or U of L,” Bibby said. He added with a laugh: “I had some selfish tendencies when he went to Montverde, because I wanted him to play for me. But I think the city loves him.
“He’s a Louisville kid, so the state of Kentucky should embrace him,” Bibby said. “Any kid that’s successful and does what D’Angelo did, we all should embrace him regardless of where he went to college.”
Russell’s selection was also cheered by his longtime friend Quentin Snider, the U of L sophomore guard who was Russell’s AAU backcourt mate with the Louisville Magic club.
Snider, who signed autographs for kids at Rondo’s camp, said he always thought Russell had the talent to be a lottery pick, although he has been surprised to see just how much Russell’s career has taken off the past few years, elevating to the No. 2 overall pick.
“Seeing D. get picked, I jumped up and down,” said Snider, the former Ballard High School star and 2014 Kentucky Mr. Basketball winner. “I was clapping for him. When he got picked, I was very excited. I texted him, and he said, ‘You’re next, bro.'”
Bibby said he predicted a bright future for Russell and is looking forward to seeing Snider shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand on the draft stage in the coming years as well.
“It’s like when I saw Rajon play for the first time, I knew he was a pro,” Bibby said. “When I saw D’Angelo play for the first time, when I saw this kid (Snider) play, I was like, ‘This kid is going to be a pro.’
“I’m not surprised that Q stepped into his role this year and did what he did as a point guard. I’m not surprised by D’Angelo going No. 2 in the draft, and I’m not surprised Rajon has had the career he’s had in the NBA. Incredible basketball players, but more than that, just great, great kids.”
Snider believes Russell’s Louisville roots are important to the future Laker.
“He’s putting Louisville on the map,” Snider said.