Smith looks to shed reputation, find a team
The former UCLA big man says he’s worked on improving as a player and person.
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.”
GEORGETOWN’S Joshua Smith, left, has worked out for 10 NBA teams, including Lakers and Clippers.