Joshua Smith has questions to answer

Joshua Smith says he's ready to be much more of a contributor to the Bruins this season. Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- It seems as if Joshua Smith can't go anywhere these days without somebody asking about his weight.

That's what happens after a season in which conditioning issues plagued the 6-foot-10 UCLA center from start to finish. Smith is back for his junior season looking to erase the memory of last season, when he continually found himself on the bench in foul trouble because his poor conditioning didn't allow him to play proper defensive technique.

Smith won't give up his actual weight (he's listed at 305) but to his credit, he has taken all questions about his weight and conditioning head-on. He knows, however, that the questions will persist until he proves those things are no longer an issue.

"It's fine," Smith said. "I'm not going to shy away from that. It's one of those where I accept it. I'm just ready to go out and just play and prove to people that the last two years are in the past."

As a freshman in 2010-11, Smith showed signs of the promise that made him one of the most coveted big man recruits in the country. He played in 33 games that season and started 15. He averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds and was named to the Pac-10 all-freshman team.

Still, he had foul trouble and conditioning issues and didn't seem to maximize his potential until late in the season when he became a dominant force during UCLA's run to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

He averaged 13 points and 27 minutes a game over the last four, including the two NCAA tournament games, showing what he could do if he stayed on the floor.

Last year was a major regression, with his conditioning issues apparent early in the season and foul trouble following him throughout a beleaguered campaign. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds and played only 17.2 minutes a game -- down from 21.7 the year before.

"It was one of those where I just didn't have fun last year," Smith said. "I remember a lot of bad times more than good. I remember a lot of times being frustrated being on the bench, being in foul trouble. Like wow, two quick fouls, you know, in the chair."

Smith was whistled 101 times in 549 minutes last season -- an average of a foul every 5.4 minutes. The season before he collected a foul every 6.8 minutes. Many of those fouls came on reach-ins -- his lazy way of trying to compensate for not being able to move his feet quickly enough to defend.

He has said several times this offseason that he's committed to showing up this season in better shape and if he does, he can be one of the top post players in the country. He has made progress, but he's still not quite at an elite level.

"Josh still has a lot of work to do there," coach Ben Howland said. "He's in much better condition to run up and down than he was a year ago at this time, but he still has a ways to go from where we really ideally would like to have him."

Smith has said he'd like to play 25-30 minutes a game, and to be contributing to the team in a meaningful way.

"This year, my whole thing is to try to be on the court more," he said. "Just stay out of foul trouble, to play better defense and give my team all I can give them. That's been one of my biggest Achilles' heels is playing defense and being able to stay on defense and not being a liability to my team."