UCLA center Joshua Smith, one of the top freshmen in the Pac-10, returns home tonight when the Bruins face a tough challenge at Washington as they try to stay in first place.
Smith was raised in a Seattle suburb and his brother played football for Washington, but the 6-foot-10, 305-pound McDonald's All-American chose to attend UCLA instead. That means he's expecting a negative reaction to his presence from Washington fans.
"In their mind, I'm a traitor," Smith said. "Obviously it's going to be a hostile environment. I've been to UW games, I know how hostile it gets."
Smith's ability to handle the crowd may very well have an impact on UCLA's chances of winning the game.
Earlier this season, Smith let the crowd get to him and it affected his play. At USC on Jan. 9, Smith was so upset with the fans that he gave the Trojans crowd the middle finger after the game.
"My dad keeps joking around, saying that my mom is going to get into a fight with the whole student section," Smith said. "The last thing I need is to look up there seeing my mom trying to tell the whole student section to shut up and stuff."
Smith's maturation is one main reason UCLA is back in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid. He's battled issues with his weight, foul trouble and his emotions toward refs and fans on the road ridiculing his weight.
It'll all be tested against Washington, which has 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye to counter Smith's size and the capability of ruining his return home.
But if Smith and the Bruins can somehow escape with a win after having lost their previous six games in Seattle, look out for this team that's growing up by the game.