INDIANAPOLIS -- D'Angelo Russell insists he's ready to rumble. Nasty can be part of his game -- within the rules, of course.
Russell is America's No. 10 player in the Class of 2014 according to Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service. He's a 6-4, 185-pound guard with a 6-9 wingspan and plenty of potential.
But he sometimes plays without fire, defends without purpose. At least, he did, and paid a playing time price. Last year's move from Louisville Central High School to Florida's Monteverde Academy didn't go well. Coach Kevin Boyle had the team talent and personal disposition to use the bench as motivator.
So Russell sat and stewed and, he insists, learned.
“It gave me a chance to grow up,” he says. “Going down there I was probably a little childish. It's like college. You've got to play defense if you want to play. I guess I didn't bring it every day in practice.”
Russell can score and penetrate at will. He can take over a game with his shooting and passing. He had 25 points in one Adidas Invitational victory, added 20 points in the Louisville Magic's U16 title game win over Team Thad, earned U16 MVP honors and showed he belongs with the best in his class.
Still, he's capable of more, and he knows it. It's a lasting impression from the Monteverde benching.
“It got me prepared. I didn't play as much as I should have, so I got in the gym and got better. I'm hungry. I've learned I have to compete every time I hit the floor.
“I would come out too cool. I was too comfortable. I need to dive on the floor; make hard fouls if I foul somebody. I know I have it in me.”
Ellis Myles' job is to get it out of Russell. Myles is the coach of Russell's Louisville Magic travel ball team and continues to push his player to go beyond his comfort level.
“He's an All-American,” Myles says. “There aren't too many things he can't do. He can play on the ball, off the ball and now he's playing defense. That helps out that much more.”
Getting it out of Russell has been a collective effort between Myles, Boyle and Russell's father, Antonio.
“It has to do a lot with him sitting down last year,” Myles says. “Kevin Boyle being a defensive-minded coach and D'Angleo knows that's what it's going to take for him to get on the court. That's what he's worked on this summer
“He can be great on defense. He's 6-4 with a 6-9 wingspan. He's learning to use his length. Once he learns that he's going to be that much more valuable.”
Russell's eight rebounds in an Adidas Invitational game indicated his development as more than a scorer.
“That's something I haven't seen since I've had him,” Myles said. “Him playing defense and rebounding is making him a real elite player.”
Major college coaches are well aware of Russell. Indiana has offered a scholarship, as has Louisville, Ohio State, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri and Xavier. North Carolina and Kentucky are taking long looks at him.
Indiana is making a strong push behind head coach Tom Crean.
“I'm in contact with Indiana a lot,” Russell says. “I like how Coach Crean has turned the thing around. They weren't wining as much as they should, but they are now. I like that about it.”
Russell says he's getting pressure from Louisville fans and, to a lesser extent, Kentucky supporters.
“I get people on Twitter, on Facebook, everywhere I go,” he says.
Russell says he'll likely wait until the fall of his senior year to pick a college.
“I'm as far away as I can possible be from making a decision. I want to see who's coming with me, who's coming before me, if the coaches are still there. I'm letting the class open out.”
Russell says he's looking for a school that has “the right type of guys, that has the best coaching staff and being in a winning program.”
Russell has his sights set on being the Class of 2014's No. 1 player by the time he's a senior. His training includes pushups, but not weight lifting.
“I do as many pushups as I can,” he says. “I don't do it every day, but when I do it, it's probably 100 to 150 a day.”
Rumors suggest Russell will leave Monteverde and return to Louisville to play for Trinity or Southern or Ballard.
Not so, he says.
“I've heard the rumors, but I don't think I'm coming back. I couldn't tell you where they're coming from. They've come out of the blue.”
What isn't a rumor is Russell's commitment to basketball intensity.
“Every time I go out there, I have to compete. I have to be mentally prepared for every game, go hard every time.”