Senior center Joshua Smith returns this year after a summer at home, looking leaner, meaner, and ready to go. After sitting out his junior spring due to academic issues, Smith appears to have turned over a new leaf both on and off the court. The 6-10, 350 pound behemoth feels he is much more mature.
“It won’t ever happen again,” said Smith of his academic issues. “I felt embarrassed, but I’m a man and I manned up…I’m not letting these guys down again.”
Smith’s words seem to suggest that after a year on the Hilltop, the former transfer from UCLA has adjusted to Georgetown’s academic rigors, a good omen for a team whose frontcourt offense was stagnant without the towering center.
In his senior year, Smith is not just looking to contribute on the court, but to lead in the locker room as well.
“Yeah, I mean me, [Jabril Trawick], D’vauntes [Smith-Rivera], [Aaron Bowen], and Mikael [Hopkins], we’re kind of the leaders on the team because we’re the older guys, we’re the seniors,” said Smith. “I mean anytime you have five freshmen, you know, you want to set the tone for them, and, like I said, we have five really, really good freshmen and it’s just one of those want to ‘lead by example’ [situations]. You know we’re kind of anchoring the team, but we’re all in this together.”
One of the more surprising issues in Smith’s game last season was his lack of rebounds. He averaged 3.4 boards a game, which is noticeably low for someone with an imposing 6-foot-10, 300-pound frame. In addition, his defense was lacking, especially against stretch forwards with whom he was unable to keep up with. His conditioning will undoubtedly help with both aspects of his game, but it may be the practice time spent guarding his teammate, senior forward Mikael Hopkins, that could make the ultimate difference. Hopkins, athletic and long, is similar to many players Smith has struggled with, and has given Smith repetitions in guarding plays that other teams had great success with against the Hoyas last year. Smith hopes to correct these worrisome trends from last season, which have been two primary points of emphasis between him and the Georgetown coaching staff during practice.
“Really just defense and rebounding, I mean, what I said earlier, just an emphasis on practice. When we’re going up and down and say, Mikael, gets the rebound, Coach Thompson will say, ‘I need you to get that.’ There is more of an emphasis every day on the rebounds that I don’t get. It’s just repetition so that it becomes second nature in the game,” Smith said.
With a full stable of backcourt and combo forward scorers, having a fit and focused Smith could help spread the floor, and make the Hoyas a logistical nightmare for opposing coaches.
“You could see that our in-and-out game wasn’t as good as it was with Josh. Now that Josh is back, it’ll open up the floor for everybody,” said junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. “I think that’s the big thing for us is getting him, along with the talent that we acquired this year and just gelling it all together.”
It’s no secret that at his best, Smith is virtually unstoppable on offense, but the Blue and Gray will need him to bring his best effort every night to avoid the pitfalls that came at times during the first half of last season. But, according to others in the gym, there is little worry about Smith’s ability to contribute day-in and day-out.
“Consistency,” said Smith-Rivera. “That’s been the big thing for him, just being reliable for the team and he’s definitely done that.”
Smith has all of the physical tools, and many of the offensive skills, necessary to be able to dominate the paint throughout his final season on the Hilltop.
“Josh is unique in many ways,” said Head Coach John Thompson III. “You won’t go against too many people who are as strong as he is and who can do the things that he can do.”
Smith is a unique athlete in that he combines playing ability and supposed consistency with intimidating size. Simply put, there’s nobody quite like him. Hoya supporters will be thankful he’s lining up in blue and gray, while opposing fans will be ruing the day the McDonough Mammoth ever set up shop in the center of their paint.