Russ meant a lot to Niles’ turnaround

The 2011-2012 basketball season for the Niles Red Dragons was dreadful, to say the least, as the team went 3-18 on the year. For soon-to-be senior guard Ray Russ, he was determined to turn things around for Niles basketball.

“A couple of people talked to me about quitting after the season,” Russ said. “That isn’t the thing you want to do because everyone looks at you as a quitter, and that’s not me. I love basketball too much.”

Russ was devoted to enhancing his game during the offseason in hopes to help improve the program.

“I just practiced hard every day, just getting ready to be better,” Russ said. “I thought I shot the 3 ball better compared to last year. I got stronger and I got faster.”

Ron Price, who came back in June for his second stint as coach, was impressed by Russ’ skills after witnessing him in offseason shootarounds. Price knew Russ could be a player who could positively impact the Red Dragons.

“(Price) put the ball in my hands, since I was the captain and was the only starter returning,” Russ said. “He had a lot of confidence in me. I tried to be a captain and make my teammates better. I think I did that.”

Russ was certainly a key part of Niles’ success in the 2012-2013 season. He averaged 20 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.2 steals per game. The Red Dragons improved to 12-11, nine wins better than a year before.

Along with his hard work, Russ credits Price and his teammates as to why he had a successful senior campaign.

“When coach Price came in, he wanted to win,” Russ said. “I knew he was going to be a good coach, and I knew he was going to turn Niles basketball around.

“Our team played good together. We didn’t want to come out like we did last year. We were dedicated and we wanted to win, we tried to do that.”

In the Division II sectional final against Southeast, Russ scored 30 points, eclipsing 1,000 career points in a double-overtime loss. Despite the defeat, Russ was grateful for the chance to play high school basketball. It also was sentimental for him when he scored 1,000 career points.

“When I came into the season, I was just wishing to play good because I knew it was my senior year,” Russ said. “I knew I was close to the 1,000 mark. I wanted to get that, something I can talk about when I’m older.

“It means a lot to me because I only played three years. I never thought I’d ever be near 1,000 points, but I did it. I’m just blessed that I did.”

Russ’ future in basketball is uncertain. He said he would love to play basketball in college, and has faith in himself that he can.

“If I get stronger, grow a little more, be dedicated in practicing. I think I can play on the next level.” Russ said. “I just got to believe, work at it, and keep my grades up so I can play at the next level.”