- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- UCLA center Joshua Smith, coming off a season considered among the most disappointing by any college basketball player in the country, has rededicated himself to better conditioning and nutrition as he prepares to embark on a season filled with high hopes for the Bruins.
Smith, a junior, said he has lost at least 15 pounds since the end of last season. He is consulting a nutritionist, spending more time in the gym and the results were evident during a summer workout Tuesday, when he ran up and down the court for nearly an hour without showing much fatigue. It was a far cry from last season when he routinely lumbered around out of breath and had a mostly forgettable season.
"I can admit that last summer I didn't take that step to improve my game," he said. "I had an OK freshman year, people were praising me, I kind of got my feet wet in D-I, I kind of got my feet wet in the Pac-12 and I thought I knew what to expect. But you see that guys in the offseason were in the gym, in the weight room and stuff. … It was like if you put in the work, good things would happen and that's what I'm trying to do."
Smith clearly wasn't one of those guys last season. After averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds and earning a spot on the Pac-10 All-freshman team, he was expected to break out and become one of the country's dominant big men. Instead, he regressed. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds and found it difficult to stay on the floor because of continual fatigue-related foul trouble. His minutes went down from 21.7 as a freshman to 17.2 last season.
His lackluster performance last season was a major contributor to the Bruins falling short of expectations. They had been picked to win the Pac-12 Conference and were ranked No. 18 in the preseason, but finished 19-14 overall, fifth in the Pac-12 and did not make a postseason tournament.
"I couldn't really take anything positive from last year," Smith said. "I want to get to the point where it's not, 'Oh if Josh was in shape' or 'If Josh was this.' 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."
The team can definitely use him. UCLA brought in a freshman class ranked No. 1 in the country and is expected to make a serious run at the national title. A caveat is if Smith can become more of a factor. At 6 feet 10 and with a wide body (he's listed at 305 pounds, but is closer to 350) he can be unstoppable in the post.
That was supposed to be the case last year, too, but Smith freely acknowledges he didn't take last offseason seriously. Instead of staying on campus and working out with his teammates, he returned home to Kent, Wash., and barely touched a basketball, he said. He reported to practice out of shape. This summer, he is staying on campus and working out with the team. He'll also have the benefit of 10 extra full-practice sessions because the Bruins are playing a three-game slate of exhibition games in China in late August.
"Last summer, I can admit I didn't do anything," he said. "I went to the gym every so often, I was chilling and enjoying my summer. It's like if you want to get to that next level, you've got to put in the work. I just took it upon myself to get in better shape because I'm just trying to help the team out and I feel like if I'm in better shape, if I'm in the best shape of my life, I can help the team out and help us win."