"[Josh] Smith has a huge frame and remarkable agility for a player his size. He has long arms and possesses a Division I body already. Despite his youth he has an outstanding feel for the game. Though he's a bit overweight, he's quite bouncy and he uses his body very well to ward off taller opponents." -- ESPN Recruiting Nation, November 2007
"This strong and physical wide body is super explosive around the rim. Smith power dunks on, over or around defenders when he receives drop-off passes created by guard penetration. He has good hands and runs the floor very well for a player his size. He can beat most centers down the floor for an early post-up opportunity. Smith must continue to add to his post-move package and work to stay in shape year around to continue his dominant ways when he gets on the college level." -- August 2008
"Smith is the most promising post prospect in the west for the class of 2010. He is still carrying too much weight since I saw him last [Adidas Nations in April] and that is definitely affecting his game. There were many times he struggled at the rim [Rose City Showcase] and actually fell to the floor a quite a few times despite outweighing his opponent by a significant amount." -- June 2009
"Smith is the most promising 5-man out west in the class of 2010. However, his propensity to gain weight could be problematic when he gets to the next level. Due to his recent injury his body appeared to be much heavier than in the summer evaluation period and as a result his stamina is not where it needs to be." -- February 2010
Josh Smith left UCLA's program Wednesday. This probably should not come as a surprise, for a couple of reasons:
1. UCLA players have been leaving Ben Howland's program in droves -- via transfer, dismissal, or you name it -- over the past four seasons. Earlier this week, guard Tyler Lamb took off. At this point, a week that goes by without a UCLA defection feels like the exception, not the rule. That program is currently a disaster, but that's a topic for another day.
2. Smith's sad UCLA story was bound to come to an end, and sooner rather than later.
Since he arrived at the school, we've all said the same things over and over and over about Josh Smith:
What a talent. Such soft hands and quick feet, even for a guy that big. All he has to do is shed a bit of weight, get a little bit more agile, and the sky is the limit. NBA millions, here we come.
As a freshman, Smith excelled despite his frame, averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in about 21.7 minutes of action. UCLA was solid that season -- the Bruins went to the NCAA tournament, and even won a game -- and the widely accepted prediction was that Smith would use his first full season in the graces of an elite Division I strength and training program to emerge as a sophomore leaner, meaner and more devastating than ever before.
Instead, by July 2011, Ben Howland was frankly admitting to CBS' Gary Parrish that Smith was "about 10 pounds over where he was last season." It's hard to tell whether or not he kept that weight on during the 2011-12 season, because, as a courtesy, UCLA's sports information folks stopped updating his weight listing long ago -- sort of like me on my driver's license. Smith's minutes dropped to just 17.2 per game last season. He was still somewhat efficient when on the floor, but his inability to actually stay on said floor caused his numbers to slide to 9.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Still, though. What a talent. Such soft hands and quick feet, even for a guy that big. All he has to do is shed a bit -- OK, a lot -- of weight, get a little bit more agile, and the sky is the limit. NBA millions, it's not too late.
You think Smith himself never heard any of this? You think people around him weren't telling him what the entire world knew to be true? Of course they were. Which is why this summer, he seemed to make a real, honest, genuine go of it. In July, he told ESPN LA's Peter Yoon that he had lost 15 pounds, and that he finally understood the importance of hard work in getting where he wants to be. "I want to get to the point where it's not, 'Oh, if Josh was in shape' or 'If Josh was this,'" he said. "I just want to be able to run up and down and give my team 29 or 30 minutes on the floor where I'm actually producing, not just 19 minutes where I play in spurts and try to stay out of foul trouble."
This season, through six games, Smith is averaging 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.5 minutes per game, all career lows. Some of that has to do with Howland's new talent, as well as Howland's undying affection for the Wear twins. Just as much has to do with the fact that Smith still isn't anywhere near where he needs to be to be a factor on the national collegiate hoops level, let alone an NBA prospect.
In all, Smith's most notable moment of this season -- maybe the most notable moment of his UCLA career -- is that time he airballed that layup.
That GIF is funny, sure. But it is also sad, because it is the culmination of everything Smith could have been, but it isn't. How many guys that big can dribble half that well in the open court? How many would dare to attempt a euro step around a smaller, quicker defender? Now imagine Smith at 40, 50 pounds lighter. Imagine how he must see himself, racing down the floor, knowing in his mind he can pull off this move just before his body turns and laughs in his face.
I don't know why Smith can't lose the weight. I don't know if it's UCLA's fault, or Howland's, or if he has a disorder, or if he just isn't focused on basketball, or some combination therein. I don't know if he'll find a second chance somewhere else (though I hope so); I don't know if his shot at the NBA is already over.
All I know is what we've all always known about Josh Smith, what we've been saying about the kid since he was a sophomore in high school:
What a talent. If he only lost some of that weight.