The Casual Hoya player profile series comes to its conclusion with one of the greatest enigmas of college basketball: senior center Josh Smith. Throughout his three years of college basketball, Smith has shown flashes of great potential as a post scorer, but has struggled with weight problems and academic issues. As a result, Smith is the biggest question mark, both literally and figuratively, on this year's Georgetown team. Can Smith get his act together for his final collegiate season?
Statistics: 13 GP, 11.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.6 BPG, 65.5 FG%, 63.5 FT%
When Smith entered UCLA, he was a highly touted recruit. He was named a McDonald's All-American, and was supposed to lead the Bruins' program back to brighter days. However, in two years, Smith was unable to deliver on his promise.
As his career progressed, Smith's weight ballooned, his production decreased, and his relationship with then-coach Ben Howland deteriorated. He was usually unable to play more than half of the game due to conditioning issues. He often looked slow and tired on the court, which led to fouls and lazy defense. Eventually, Smith's time at UCLA proved to be so unpleasant that he transferred to Georgetown mid-year. He immediately became a primary cheerleader for a Big East regular season champion team.
After a long period of uncertainty and speculation, Smith was declared eligible to play for the 2013-14 Hoyas. He showed promise early in the season, most notably by scoring 25 points on 10-13 shooting against Oregon in the team's season opener. He recorded double-digit points in six consecutive wins, including 17 in the Hoyas' win over then-No. 10 VCU. However, when the Hoyas travelled to Kansas, Jayhawks center Joel Embiid abused Smith, scoring 17 points on only four field goal attempts. That was the beginning of the end for Smith, as he only played two more games before being suspended for academics.
During his time on the court in 2013-14, Smith showed some positive signs. He used his bulk effectively on offense, and was often an immovable post presence, proving to be a difficult assignment for almost any defender. However, many of Smith's issues from previous seasons also resurfaced. Despite reports that Smith had lost significant weight, he still struggled to stay on the court, as he played more than 25 minutes in only three games. In addition, Smith's weight led him to foul at an extraordinary rate of 3.5 fouls per game, in only 19.9 minutes per game. That extrapolates to over seven fouls per 40 minutes, which is obviously an unacceptable pace. In addition, he grabbed only 3.4 rebounds per game, a shockingly low number for such an enormous man.
Despite all of these issues, Smith's biggest problem last season was academics. He was declared academically ineligible by the NCAA just as the Hoyas were beginning their conference schedule, leaving Mikael Hopkins, Moses Ayegba, and Nate Lubick to man the middle. Smith was and is undoubtedly a flawed player, but he was still contributing when he was on the court, and he obviously could not help the team while sitting on the bench. When Smith was on the court, the Hoyas won 10 of their 13 games. After he was suspended, the Hoyas staggered to an 8-10 record to finish the season. While some of that is due to the weak non-conference schedule at the beginning of the season, it was clear that the Hoyas struggled to replace Smith's low-post presence. As he had in his previous collegiate seasons, Smith failed to be a reliable contributor.
The prognosis for Smith's season is essentially the same as it has been for his past three seasons. There are reports from Georgetown that Smith has lost significant weight, and from the times that I have seen him around campus, it definitely appears as though he is in better shape than last season. In addition, Smith has expressed remorse for letting his team down this year, and seems focused on having a strong senior season. Reports from practice have been positive regarding Smith's play, and he figures to slot in as the team's starting center.
Obviously, all of this comes with a huge grain of salt. In fact, in my opinion, it all comes with an entire block of salt. The reason for this is because last season, and in the seasons prior, there were similarly positive reports regarding Smith's weight loss, conditioning, and determination. Every season that Smith has entered, the prognostication has been for significant improvement, but it has yet to happen. The fact of the matter is, Smith has yet to prove that he can maintain focus for an entire season, and thus he remains a huge question mark in Georgetown's lineup.
This is Smith's final opportunity to make a positive impression in college basketball, and perhaps create the inroads for a potential professional career. It would seem that Smith would recognize the do-or-die nature of this season, and finally get his act together for an entire season. If this does occur, he could potentially be a dominant force in the Big East. There are few defenders in the Big East who can deal with Smith's immense size, soft hands, and surprisingly nimble footwork. When he is playing well, he has a gravitational effect on opposing defenses, which could free up open looks for D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Jabril Trawick, L.J. Peak, Reggie Cameron, and the rest of the Hoyas. Smith has the potential to be one of the few truly dominant low-post offensive presences in the nation.
However, Smith has received opportunity after opportunity and has failed to rise to meet the occasion time and time again. He has the potential to be a game-changing presence and a leader of a successful Hoyas team, but it is hard not to be skeptical of Smith after all of these years. However, I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong.
Smith dominates the low-post from the outset of the season. With improved conditioning, he is able to play 25 minutes per game, and is an efficient and effective post scorer. As the season progresses, he draws more and more double teams, and all of Georgetown's guards and forwards benefit from the increased space with which to operate. On defense, Smith is able to use his frame as a deterrent for opposing guards, and is a competent rim protector. In addition, his increased agility allows him to avoid fouls and stay on the floor for more minutes in each game. Smith leads the Hoyas to a highly successful season, a Big East regular season championship, and an NCAA tournament run, and is selected in the second round of the NBA draft by a team that is looking for a second-unit big who can put the ball in the basket.
Smith's weight balloons again as the season starts, and he is unable to stay on the floor for more than a few minutes at a time. He is a sieve on defense, as he simply does not possess the foot speed or the endurance to keep up with high-energy opposing big men. Throughout the season, Smith misses several games due to injury, and is unable to play more than 25 minutes in a single game. After the end of the season, Smith fades into oblivion, the classic example of a player who failed to fulfill his significant promise.