Fatts Russell played the last 10 minutes of his Rhode Island career with his wrist taped up. It might be broken, after he hit a defender on a follow-through midway through the second half of Thursday’s Atlantic 10 Tournament game.
It was one last indignity in a challenging final season for Russell, the details of which weren’t fully spelled out until Thursday’s postgame press conference.
“The first game of the season against Arizona State, I fell at the beginning of the second half. I didn’t feel it, but the next day I couldn’t walk. I had to get a shot in my foot, so ever since then, that’s been bothering me,” Russell said. “Then I had a sports hernia in my leg that I got from the Duquesne game. Then I had a high ankle sprain at Dayton. It’s just been a tough year. I think I might have broke my wrist out there today. It’s just been a rough year, with the corona situation and just everything.”
His team’s struggles stung, too. The empty stands made it a quiet year. Russell deserved better on every front. As he departed the game with 20 seconds left, he hugged teammates and coaches, fighting back emotion.
“I told him that I loved him. I told him I was proud of him,” head coach David Cox said. “And then we shared some words obviously in the locker room as a staff and as a team. He’s left a tremendous impact on this program, obviously. He’s made a tremendous impact on me as a coach. I’ll never forget that young man. Neither will the Rhode Island faithful.”
Russell leaves his mark in the record books. He is the school’s all-time leader in career steals. He ranks 13th on the all-time scoring list, eighth in single-game scoring, seventh in career assists. He is one of only four players in school history with at least 1,500 points and 400 assists.
He was part of an NCAA Tournament team as a freshman and led URI’s rise up the A-10 standings last year, when their shot at a return trip to the Big Dance was wiped out. He was a first-team all-conference selection.
“It’s really hard to even think about the fact that I won’t get to coach Fatts Russell again,” Cox said. “That kid is an unbelievable competitor. He’s left it all out on the floor, every single day. His legacy at the University of Rhode Island is unmistakable. He will go down as a legend.”
Surrounded by a host of new faces and dogged by the injury bug, Russell still finished as the team’s leading scorer and delivered his share of memorable moments this season. His performance in the second half of his senior night win over Dayton - when the Rams rallied from an 18-point deficit - was vintage. He would go on to flirt with triple-doubles in two of URI’s final three games, including Thursday’s loss. He finished with eight points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
His memory bank will be dotted with more than the shots and passes and assists.
“Just the smiles, just the love,” he said. “Our fans that we didn’t get a chance to play in front of this year. The community. Everything about it. Everybody embraced me here. I’m thankful for it. Rhody will always be a part of me. I’ll look at Rhody as family. It will always be a special place in my heart.”
Russell said after the senior night game that he would leave everything he had on the floor.
He was almost apologetic on Thursday. He felt like he couldn’t because of his wrist.
“It was hard for me to give it my all toward the end,” Russell said.
Cox had a different perspective, the gap between them summing up the drive, competitiveness and dedication that defined a dynamic career.
“Tonight, basically finishing the game with one arm,” Cox said, “he gave it everything he had.”