- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014

Georgetown center Joshua Smith boasted the second-highest field goal percentage in Division I basketball last season, 65.5 percent — topping even Kansas 7-footer Joel Embiid, who was selected third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Or at least Smith would’ve finished second if he had played enough to qualify.

ESPN’s statistics rank only those who played in 75 percent of their team’s games in a season and averaged more than five field goal attempts a contest.

Smith failed to make the cut because Georgetown suspended him for all but the first 13 games of the 2013-14 campaign due to academic issues. In this lies the quandary of the 2014-15 Hoya basketball season.

“When Josh is on the court, there are very few people like him in college … in basketball, to be honest,” coach John Thompson III said. “Now, he has to make sure he stays on the court.”



Which, for Smith, is easier said than done.

The 6-foot-10, 350-pound senior — whose weight fluctuates — hasn’t stayed on the court more than 20 minutes per game for a season since his freshman year. He’s also only suited up for 19 games over the past two seasons, including the six he played in for UCLA in 2012 before he quit and transferred to Georgetown.

Smith knows he must improve these numbers.

“I’m extremely motivated,” he said. “I don’t want to really dwell on the past, but I let my teammates down. I missed half the season last year, and I feel like I owe them a lot.”

The problem is that Smith has known this for years.

“I want to get to the point where it’s not, ‘Oh, if Josh was in shape,’ or ‘If Josh was this,’” Smith 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.”

Smith uttered those words nearly two-and-a-half years ago following his sophomore season at UCLA, according to ESPN.

If Smith consistently gives Georgetown 30 minutes on the floor this year and simply maintains his scoring rate from the last, he’d notch 17.3 points per game — and form one of the top offensive duos in the Big East with junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. But the word “if” has followed Smith since he signed with the Bruins as the 20th-best prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. NBA draft insider Chad Ford has used the word “if” 11 times in his updating scouting report of Smith.

The Hoyas would be better off relying on someone more reliable, but that someone probably doesn’t exist.

Smith, Smith-Rivera and senior guard Jabril Trawick are the only returning Hoyas who scored more than six points a game last season. Out of the seven returning upperclassmen, three are coming off a campaign in which they played less than four minutes per outing. And five of the 14 players on Georgetown’s roster are freshmen — talented freshmen, three of whom were ranked among the top 35 recruits in the country, but none of whom are likely to help carry Georgetown back to the NCAA tournament without Smith doing the heavy lifting.

“He adds a completely different dimension to our team because he gives us a low-post presence that commands attention … and he’s a good passer. And he has a good feel for the game,” Thompson said. “And so, we’re a very different team when he’s on the court.”

Luckily for the Hoyas, as unsuccessful as Smith has been at sustaining the heavy lifting, he’s more than capable.

“He’s a mismatch for everybody in college,” senior forward Mikael Hopkins said. “Me myself, guys in practice, we all have a hard time guarding him, and I’m happy that the season’s about to start so other people can feel my pain.”

Georgetown will start the season Saturday against St. Francis. In last year’s opener, Smith finished with 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting in 27 minutes against No. 19 Oregon, which ultimately advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Smith has always shown flashes of brilliance. This offseason, he prepared to string those flashes together into one dominant year by becoming a more well-rounded player.

“I’ve been trying to work on playing better defense and rebounding,” Smith said. “Those are two big things that I know if I can rebound better, if I can play defense better, I’ll be on the floor longer.”

And the longer he’s on the floor, the higher Georgetown’s odds are to make an impact next March — Smith’s last March in college basketball.

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