I've been putting this one off for a while. I've gone through the more straightforward profiles - Aaron Bowen, Mikael Hopkins, even Tyler Adams. But I can procrastinate no longer: it's finally time for me to decide where I land on Joshua Smith.
Each year offered new hopes and promises of reform, but perhaps Eamonn Brennan described Smith best with this headline: "Josh Smith: the Once and Always Project." The article was written three years ago, but it held true through Smith's tenure at Georgetown - a stint that was entirely emblematic of Smith's basketball career.
Academic ineligibility and conditioning issues stunted what could have been an impactful first year at Georgetown. His senior year was more significant than most in that it offered a final opportunity for Smith. It was a final grasp at salvaging what could have been a special collegiate basketball career, what could have been the stepping stone to an NBA career.
It's fitting that he averaged exactly 20 minutes per game this year. It seems to underscore the feeling that we only got half of what we could have out of Smith.
I won't go through his career the same way I've done for the other seniors and I won't try to replicate the fantastic piece of analysis that St. Patrick wrote at the end of the season. Instead, I'll weigh in on the only new piece of information we have: Joshua Smith did not graduate from Georgetown.
I would like to make a note that the reasons Smith did not graduate are not entirely clear. However, given that JT3 did not recognize him at the senior banquet or in any other end-of-year activities, it seems that - as has been reported -Smith chose to leave on his own accord.
So... why does it matter?
We live in a world where student-athletes are athletes first, pawns in collegiate schemes to pad their pockets. Athletes like Joshua Smith make Georgetown a ton of money and bring attention to the university. Smith did his service to the school: He was not brought here to graduate; he was brought here to play basketball.
Under no other circumstance would a young man with Josh Smith's profile and background be admitted to Georgetown University. He had a host of on-court and off-court issues at UCLA. The question in modern college sports is not whether or not student-athletes must graduate but whether student-athletes should be paid for the revenue they help the school create.
So, it really doesn't matter.
And so, Smith should be judged on the merits for which he was brought to Georgetown - his basketball ability, not his academic one. With Smith on the court, the Hoyas jumped out to a 10-3 record his junior year with wins over No. 10 ranked VCU and a 27-point stomping of Kansas State. Without Smith, Georgetown lost 6 of its next 7 games and failed to make the NCAA tournament. The difference with Smith on the court and Smith off the court was clear.
His senior year, Smith rectified his issue off the court, which allowed him to stay on it. His failure to graduate was a byproduct of his efforts outside of the classroom and after the season ended. It shouldn't cloud the analysis of what he did on the court - which, at times, was nothing short of remarkable. With this in mind, it is difficult to shower anything but praise on such an impactful basketball player, even if he was capable of more.
...are you sure?
And somehow, I can't shake the feeling that Smith's failure to graduate was symptomatic of something much greater, of something much more consequential. In one respect, it colors his lackluster performance towards the end of the year. When Smith picked up his fourth foul against Eastern Washington on an almost comically lazy reach to start the second half, it was difficult to find a viable excuse. It was the culmination of everything that was wrong with Smith at the worst possible time.
Yet there is something even fundamental at play. I want to hold onto the idea that Hoya basketball is different, that there's something special about the way the Thompsons conduct themselves and conduct business at Georgetown. I'm always particularly taken by a quote from John Thompson that's displayed prominently in the window of the Nike Store on M Street: "Don't let the sum total of your existence be 8-10 pounds of air."
Thompson wasn't calling for his players to quit basketball and become professors, but he was saying something very certain and compelling about the way Georgetown operates. The university has never been a disparate conjunction of academic disciplines and sports teams; rather, it is a set of philosophies that guide both. Some people don't like it, and they don't have to come to Georgetown.
But Smith came to Georgetown, to the place that was willing to give him a last chance; a place whose coach genuinely cares about his players; and a place that seemed to put him on the right path, perhaps not toward the NBA, but toward significant personal success. But Smith never seemed to care about himself as much as Georgetown did.
By leaving Georgetown early, Smith disrespected what Georgetown stands for. It is difficult for me to assess Smith as a Hoya because it seems that he really never was one. He was a basketball mercenary and a reflection of the troubling state of intercollegiate athletics today. I wish Josh Smith the best going forward, but I fear that he will soon find much less support than he received in college.
So, does it matter that Josh Smith didn't graduate from Georgetown? For many reasons, yes. It does.