Georgetown basketball: Josh Smith a big presence, and question mark

October 22, 2013

Josh Smith didn’t utter a word during Georgetown’s pre-season media day at McDonough Arena Tuesday.

But at 6-feet-10 and roughly 350 pounds, Smith, wearing a No. 24 jersey, was impossible to ignore as his went through on-court drills with teammates while Coach John Thompson III and a series of upperclassmen fielded questions.

To say that Smith appeared massive is an understatement; the basketball all but disappeared when he palmed it in his broad right hand. And he looked as immovable as granite standing alongside the Hoyas’ lanky big men.

He also is the biggest question mark as Georgetown prepares for its Nov. 8 season-opener against Oregon in South Korea.

Just weeks remain before the Hoyas board their flight to Asia, and Thompson doesn’t know whether Smith will be deemed eligible to compete or when the NCAA will decide.

“Would I prefer it not be this late?” Thompson said rhetorically. “Probably. But it is what it is.”

A McDonald’s all-American, Smith played six games for UCLA as a sophomore last season before quitting the team, his playing-time having declined from a freshman season full of fanfare. After considering Kansas and Washington, his home state, Smith transferred to Georgetown and was allowed to practice with the team last season.

But NCAA officials have yet to rule on when Smith can join the Hoyas lineup — whether he’ll have to sit out a full year, as is customary for transfers, which means he couldn’t compete until the spring semester, or whether he’ll get a reprieve that would allow him to play in the fall semester as well.

Regardless, Thompson was bullish about Smith’s impact, characterizing him as a genuine low-post player with savvy and experience.

“He’s a very good basketball player, which quite honestly I didn’t realize until he got here last year — what a good feel for the game he has,” Thompson said. “He’s going to demand attention or he’s going to score. So that’s going to open things for a lot of people.”

As for Smith’s fitness and conditioning, a concern since he enrolled in college, Thompson said: “It’s getting there. By no means is it where it should be, but it has come a long way. It’s a work in progress. Something he has to stay diligent with; something he has to care about.”

Georgetown enters the season without its leading scorer and rebounder from last year, Otto Porter Jr., the Big East Player of the Year who was chosen by the Washington Wizards with the third pick in the NBA draft.

Thompson downplayed the void, saying it would be filled “by committee” and compensated for by the veteran leadership of seniors Nate Lubick and Markel Starks and others. But it’s unclear when, or if, they’ll regain forward Greg Whittington this season.

Whittington was expected to play a major role in Georgetown’s offense but tore the ACL in his left knee over the summer.

He continues to attend practice, and on Tuesday he shot baskets while his teammates ran drills. Whittington was not made available for interviews.

Georgetown finished the 2012-13 season with a 25-7 record, which included an 11-game winning streak, and earned a share of the Big East regular season title. But the Hoyas under-performed in the NCAA tournament yet again, bounced in the first round by hot-shooting Florida Gulf Coast.

“You just have to step back and go through the process of introspection,” Thompson said, asked about the defeat. “I think the way [the season] ended, people forget that we had a very good year. We did win the Big East. I think most of the people in this gym and most of our fans were happy on many more nights than they were unhappy. I think that gets lost when it ended as it did.”

liz.clarke@washpost.com

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post, she has also covered five Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.
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