Joshua Smith's return remains a weighty matter for the Hoyas

Joshua Smith's return remains a weighty matter for the Hoyas
August 23, 2014, 7:00 am
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(Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAYSports)

Fans of the Georgetown men's basketball team noticed one player missing at Kenner League this summer.

That player provided the Hoyas with occasional interior scoring during the first half of last season while simultaneously attempting to play his way into passable shape.

That player wasn't on the court for the final 20 games due to academic ineligibility. During that span, the team posted a losing record.

The same player, who despite not garnering true leading man status, is arguably the difference between viewing Georgetown as contenders  or who knows what.

That player is senior center Joshua Smith. With classes starting next week, head coach John Thompson III provided an update.

"He's academically eligible and will be here Saturday," Thompson told earlier this week.

That's good news. All else - specifically, Smith's physical shape - is something of a mystery even to the coach.

The Kent, Washington native was listed at 6-foot-10, 350 pounds last season, his first with Georgetown after transferring from UCLA. Realistically, he appeared heavier than that when on the court. Smith remained with the team and did appear trimmer by the end of the season. 

"Honest answer is we'll see this week when he gets here," Thompson said of Smith's current weight. "It's one thing to get reports, but we'll see when he gets here."

Smith played his last game on Jan. 4. At that point Georgetown sported a 10-3 record. He was officially ruled ineligible for the season on Jan. 24. Georgetown dropped 12 of its final 20 games and lost in the second round of the NIT, finishing the season 18-15.

What is not speculative is how when Smith did suit up, he labored up and down the court, unable to play more than a few minutes at a time. His defense and rebounding suffered. Though he scored 11.5 points per game and led the Big East in field goal percentage at the time of his final game, Smith averaged only 3.4 rebounds and 20 minutes.

"I think with Josh (and his weight), people want a number," Thompson said. "It's not a question of the number. It's a question of can he get up and down the court. Can he defensively move his feet. What the number is, for me that number might be different than what it is for you. Josh has to get to a point where his mobility is not an issue."

The coach stated that Smith spent the summer away from Georgetown because, "It was a decision he should go home." Asked what message he delivered to Smith during player exit interviews following last season, Thompson would only say, "Josh is at the end of his road intercollegiately. He has to continue to change, continue to grow up, and continue to accept responsibility."

With Smith, the lone player on last year's squad who could provide legitimate production inside, the Hilltop can ponder a return to the NCAA Tournament after not participating last for the first time since 2009.

Actually, that can happen regardless. Scoring guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera enters the season as a frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year honors. Senior Jabril Trawick adds experience and physical toughness on the perimeter. The heralded five-member freshman class offers much needed athleticism and versatility.

All that said, sometimes a team just needs to throw the ball inside for some easy offense. Smith scored what turned out to be a season-high 25 points in Georgetown's season opening loss to Oregon. He commanded double teams, which opened driving and passing lanes for others. Then Smith went away and combined with injuries elsewhere, the Hoyas' season went awry.

Depending on his physical condition and maturity, the Hoyas will hope for but not count on more from the big man this season.

"We had to change how we played several times last year just because of injuries or Josh going down because of academics," Thompson said. "Going into this year, I think we're going to have to be prepared for Josh on the court and for Josh not on the court."