UCLA center Josh Smith is listed at 6-foot-10, 305 pounds. He is probably even bigger than that, at least where his weight is concerned. This is a very large human being. Usually, in basketball, being large is a virtue.
But in Smith's case, of course, it is a drawback, the biggest thing keeping UCLA's big man from becoming a big star. The rest of the requirements -- sheer talent, feel, soft hands, scoring ability, rebounding intuition -- are all there. Of course, this is not a secret. Smith's weight has been a running issue for UCLA since he arrived on campus last summer. The weight didn't stop Smith from posting a solid freshman campaign, but Smith didn't turn that promising start into a springboard for future success. Over the summer, in fact, he gained weight.
UCLA has struggled this season, losing ugly early upsets and dismissing frontcourt mate Reeves Nelson, arguably the best player on the team, for a variety of behavioral issues. Smith's inability to play extended minutes -- to even get up and down the floor without stopping to take frequent breathers -- has kept the Bruins from utilizing their most promising piece to full effect.
In other words, what USC coach Kevin O'Neill said after the Trojans' practice on Thursday hardly qualifies as new news. But it is interesting to hear it from an opposing Pac-12 coach, one set to face the Bruins Sunday. From ESPN Los Angeles's Pedro Moura:
"I like Josh, I think he's a good player," O'Neill said after the Trojans' practice on Thursday, when asked how he thinks Smith is progressing this season. "But I would encourage anybody that's in Josh's physical condition that, if you want to play at the next level, he's got to lose weight and get himself in better shape to play." [...]
O'Neill has talked about Smith before, saying in March of last year that he thought Smith had the most upside of any Pac-12 player. Asked about those comments specifically Thursday, O'Neill was non-committal.
"I thought he did," he said. "But it's dependent on one thing: He's got to get in shape. You can't play at the next level if you're not in shape."
Again, this is hardly revelatory. Whether Smith or UCLA coach Ben Howland or any of the Bruins or their fans will feel particularly good about hearing it from the less-than-liked coach at a rival school -- who, let's be fair, has plenty of his own team's issues to deal with this season -- is another matter entirely.
But hey, O'Neill was asked a question, and guess what? He's right. Smith is never going to impress body-obsessed NBA scouts if he can't at least shed the weight and replace it with some muscle. And forget the next level; what about the here and now? Smith has the opportunity to be a force in the Pac-12, and to do so for one of college basketball's traditional bluebloods. Instead, he's playing 18.3 minutes per game, posting decent numbers, and leaving the game quickly when his legs leave him.
To be clear, I have no interest in criticizing someone for their weight, or weight loss, or lack thereof -- I could stand to shed a few pounds myself. Most of us could. But in Smith's case, there's so much talent, so much potential and, yes, so much money sitting under the surface of a 300-and-who-knows-what frame. It just feels like a waste.