Smith looks to shed rep­u­ta­tion, find a team

The for­mer UCLA big man says he’s worked on im­prov­ing as a player and per­son.

Los Angeles Times - - NBA DRAFT - By Ben Bolch ben. bolch@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ latb­bolch

The knocks could make things es­pe­cially hard for Joshua Smith on Thurs­day if NBA teams de­cide the mas­sive cen­ter’s up­side isn’t enough to off­set con­cerns that make him an iffy se­lec­tion in the draft.

Knock No. 1: He’s too fat. Smith’s weight at UCLA and Georgetown vac­il­lated from 343 to 390 pounds and he cur­rently checks in at 350, which is none too svelte, even for his 6- foot- 10 frame.

Knock No. 2: He can’t stay out of foul trou­ble. Smith en­tered and ex­ited games so of­ten he could have got­ten to know ev­ery­one at the scorer’s ta­ble on a first- name ba­sis.

Knock No. 3: He gets com­pla­cent. A promis­ing fresh­man sea­son with the Bru­ins was fol­lowed by what seemed like hi­ber­na­tion mode as a sopho­more and ju­nior. A break­out de­but with the Hoyas led to a se­ries of blah show­ings on the court and in the class­room, where Smith be­came aca­dem­i­cally in­el­i­gi­ble.

Smith, 23, doesn’t just hear the knocks but cups his hand to his ear to lis­ten for more, aware that he can ad­dress his short­com­ings only if he’s acutely aware of them.

“I know the ques­tions about me, what they are,” Smith said re­cently dur­ing a tele­phone in­ter­view. “I’m try­ing to be­come a bet­ter per­son, a bet­ter player and a bet­ter pro­fes­sional if given the chance.”

Smith has worked out for 10 NBA teams, in­clud­ing the Lak­ers and Clip­pers. Sev­eral mock draft boards do not list him be­ing taken in the first or sec­ond rounds, but Smith knows he doesn’t have to im­press ev­ery­one. “It’s try­ing to make one team fall in love with you,” he said of his ap­proach.

The courtship has in­volved Smith shed­ding about 25 pounds in the last month and be­ing painfully hon­est about his past in in­ter­views with team ex­ec­u­tives and the media.

Smith’s words res­onated with Tom Newell, a for­mer Seat­tle Su­perSon­ics as­sis­tant coach who helps de­velop pro prospects and has worked with Smith since he was a sev­enth- grade prodigy al­ready heav­ier than some NBA cen­ters.

“It’s the f irst time I’ve heard him ac­knowl­edge pub­licly that there’s a con­cern about his weight and the ques­tions that he might be lazy, this, that and the other,” Newell said. “He manned up.”

Smith said he is driven by the pos­si­bil­ity of what he could ac­com­plish by get­ting in op­ti­mal shape, some­thing he has never ex­pe­ri­enced. He wants to get down to 310 pounds, or at least 320. Smith can’t re­mem­ber the last time he was that light; it might have been be­fore high school.

Smith could po­ten­tially of­fer an NBA team more than a slimmed- down physique ca­pa­ble of jostling with a le­gion of 7- foot­ers. Said Newell: “Joshua’s too big to arm guard. You might as well get a Mack truck to try to move him.”

He’s also a gifted passer who has soft hands to go with an im­pres­sive ar­ray of moves around the bas­ket.

Will it be enough for Smith to hear his name called in the draft? One NBA ex­ec­u­tive who watched Smith work out ex­pressed doubts.

“He’s mak­ing an ef­fort to con­trol his weight,” the ex­ec­u­tive said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss prospects, “but he has a long way to go be­fore he can func­tion on an NBA team.”

Smith’s up­hill slog started af­ter be­ing se­lected an All- Pa­cific 10 Con­fer­ence fresh­man who of­ten mea­sured up to coun­ter­parts in­clud­ing cur­rent NBA stal­warts Dray­mond Green and Nikola Vuce­vic.

“Peo­ple were telling me how good I was and that I kind of had it f ig­ured out,” Smith said, “when I def­i­nitely didn’t.”

Smith stopped putting in ex­tra work and his pro­duc­tion plum­meted as his weight soared. His sta­tis­tics dipped across the board dur­ing his sopho­more sea­son and he was barely play­ing as a ju­nior when he an­nounced he was leav­ing UCLA in Novem­ber 2012.

His ar­rival at Georgetown re­sulted in another break­through, a 26- point game against Ore­gon in his de­but with the Hoyas. It might have been the worst thing that could have hap­pened.

Smith said he got lazy amid a sched­ule that in­cluded trips to South Korea and Puerto Rico, feel­ing like he was “on va­ca­tion.” His si­esta in­cluded re­peated ab­sences from class that made him aca­dem­i­cally in­el­i­gi­ble.

A bounce- back se­nior sea­son showed Smith could dom­i­nate at the col­lege level, but keep­ing up with the likes of Marc Ga­sol, An­drew Bogut and Dwight Howard is a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge en­tirely.

Smith said his NBA dream won’t die if he goes un­drafted. He’ll sim­ply try to prove him­self anew in sum­mer league while at­tempt­ing to score an in­vi­ta­tion to train­ing camp. If that fails, there’s al­ways the NBA De­vel­op­ment League or pro ball over­seas.

It helps that Smith has al­ready be­gun to drop the ex­cuses in ad­di­tion to the pounds. “No­body’s go­ing to hold me,” Smith said. “Now I know what I need to do; that’s the dif­fer­ence. If I’m able to do that, that will be the dif­fer­ence be­tween me mak­ing a team and me not mak­ing a team.”

Kathy Wil­lens As­so­ci­ated Press

GEORGETOWN’S Joshua Smith, left, has worked out for 10 NBA teams, in­clud­ing Lak­ers and Clip­pers.

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