UCLA, and Joshua Smith, appear hungry for basketball success
Joshua Smith crashed through the lane and jumped . . . yes, jumped . . . to tip in a rebound.
He then sprinted . . . yes, sprinted . . . to get back on defense.
Back on offense, he posted up and spun quickly . . . yes, quickly . . . for a layup.
As UCLA prepares for the 2012-13 basketball season, there are several weighty topics to discuss: The four incoming freshman who comprise one of the nation’s best recruiting classes . . . a trip to China for three exhibition games in August . . . and, of course, renovated Pauley Pavilion, which reopens in November.
But the meat-and-potatoes talking point remains Smith, who was billed as the future of Bruins basketball when he arrived from Kent (Wash.) Kentwood High two years ago.
Smith led the then-Pac-10 Conference in offensive rebounding as a freshman but grew more in girth than in game last season. He said he lost his appetite for basketball while falling into poor eating habits.
Months of soul-searching later, the 6-foot-10 Smith is 15 pounds closer to his listed weight of 305 and more capable of handling the up-tempo plans Coach Ben Howland has for the Bruins.
Smith kept pace during an open practice Tuesday, leaving the court head up instead of hunched over and gasping for air. He looked more like the dominant big man that was his billing out of high school.
“I didn’t want to just talk the talk,” said Smith, who will be a junior this fall. “I want people to look out there and say, ‘He’s lost 20-30 pounds.’ I want to be able to play more than 17 minutes a game.”
Howland knows what that could mean.
“I don’t think there is anyone in the college game who can stop Josh one-on-one in the post,” Howland said.
Smith still considers himself a work in progress. But he said he is no longer an exercise in regress.
Even during a productive freshman season in which he averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds and shot 55.5%, Smith was not in top shape. He finished the season with a 16-point game, making seven of 11 shots in a loss to Florida in the NCAA tournament. But he said he didn’t do much in terms of training last summer and it showed.
Last season, his weight rose while his effectiveness — and numbers — dipped. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds.
There were still moments — Smith scored 24 points and made nine of 13 shots against Washington —but the highlights were fewer and farther between.
“Last season was well documented,” Howland said.
Everyone saw it. Well, almost everyone.
“I heard the talk,” Smith said. “I tried to ignore it.”
Denial was over after he huffed and puffed through just nine minutes in a season-ending loss to Arizona during the Pac-12 tournament that left the Bruins 19-14.
“It’s always been easy for Josh,” Howland said. “He was bigger and has been able to take advantage of that. . . . That is minimized as you move up the ladder.”
Smith now consults a nutritionist who has changed his diet and habits.
“I’d go to class, have a Jamba Juice and go to practice,” Smith said. “I would be running on fumes all day and try to make up for it later. Your body is looking to store the food you need. When you eat all at one time, it’s going to store it all.”
Now, Smith said, “I have a protein shake in the morning, maybe some chicken tacos or soup before I work out. At home, maybe have another shake or some grilled chicken, brown rice, some veggies.”
Basketball is also back on the menu, as Smith said he rediscovered “my passion” for the game.
“Two years have gone by fast,” Smith said. “I can’t look back. I have two years left to do something.”
That could become an easier task with some help. The Bruins’ four freshmen — forward Shabazz Muhammad, guard Kyle Anderson, center Tony Parker and guard Jordan Adams — are ranked second nationally as a class by Scout.com.
Parker in particular could be viewed as a 6-foot-9, 270-pound wake-up call for Smith.
“Josh was motivated the first couple times he went against Tony,” Howland said. “Here’s a young kid, an All-America [in high school], as was Josh, coming in to battle for playing time.”
That competition will be across the board.
The Bruins will get bonus practice time this summer because of their trip to China in late August. They are also getting to work out with coaches under a new NCAA rule that allows for summer practices.
Muhammad “grabbed every offensive rebound the first practice,” Howland said, but he suffered a high ankle sprain and has not practiced since. Anderson, a 6-8 point guard, has not been allowed to participate in contact drills after surgery on his left wrist. Both are expected to be ready to play on the China trip.
The Bruins will play two university teams on the tour, plus the Shanghai Sharks, a pro team.
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