- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- UCLA center Joshua Smith said Thursday that he would be coming back to UCLA.
Smith, a 6-foot-10 sophomore center, had a disappointing season averaging only 10 points and 4.9 rebounds but is thought to have NBA potential because of his size. But after UCLA was knocked out of the Pac-12 tournament with a 66-58 loss to Arizona, Smith said he was not ready to test the NBA waters.
"I’m coming back," Smith said. "I can’t -- there’s no way I’ll ever leave on a note like that. Whenever I leave I want to make sure we go out with a bang and I go out with a bang, nothing like this."
Smith was a major reason why UCLA was ranked No. 17 to start this season and picked as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 title. But he reported to school this year grossly out of shape, spent the first half of the season just trying to get back into shape and was an equally major reason why the Bruins failed to live up to those lofty expectations.
He continually found himself in foul trouble throughout the season and averaged only 17.4 minutes a game. As a freshman last year, Smith averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game.
"I’m extremely upset with myself," he said. "I realized in the season with the way I was playing and my numbers compared to what they were when I was a freshman. I was supposed to make that jump and I didn’t.”
Smith says he realizes that he needs to work harder in the offseason to play at the level that made him a high school All-American.
"I've got to put in the work I know I can do," Smith said. "Last summer, after the season, I just basically chilled. I went home kind of chilled and went back to the season kind of the same. For me to be the kind of player I want to be and to be the player my team needs me to be, I need to put in the work in the offseason."
That would be music to coach Ben Howland's ears. Howland has harped on Smith's conditioning all season and hinted last week that Smith's heart hasn't always been in the game this season. A dedicated Smith would mean a much-improved Smith, Howland said.
"He's a kid that is young and needs to figure out how important basketball is to him," Howland said. "If he decides it's really important for him, he can be a very effective player."