UCLA's Joshua Smith takes loss to heart
TAMPA, Fla. -- In a locker room filled with disappointed faces, he stood out. UCLA freshman center Joshua Smith, all 6 foot 10, 325 pounds of him, sat in a corner, slumped over and dejected. His eyes were rimmed red with tears. The Bruins' standout had just had a team-high 16 points, but his team's 73-65 loss to Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament left him visibly shaken.
He won't focus on his 30 points, nine rebounds, one block and one steal in his two games in Tampa, his first NCAA tournament. The 2010 All Pac-10 freshman will remember "just how bad it hurts to lose in the tournament." He'll never forget the pain.
"I'm still hurting," Smith said. "And I never want to feel this again."
Smith confirmed after the game that he is returning to Westwood for his sophomore season.
"I am not going anywhere," Smith said. "I am staying here."
On a team that finished second in the Pac-10 in a rebuilding year without any seniors, the young center has a bright future ahead of him.
"He could be one of the best big kids in the country," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "We want to help him become the best player he can be. There's no question he's got an NBA future, but it's provided he does certain things."
If Smith works hard to improve his conditioning as his coach believes he will (he's already lost 25 pounds since the beginning of this season), his teammates are also committed to hard work to improve on this year.
UCLA sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who notched his 14th double-double of the season and his second in as many NCAA tournament games with 16 points and 11 rebounds, will be back for his junior season.
"Every individual will make whatever they want in the offseason and that depends on their personal dedication," Nelson said. "I know myself I'm going to work hard and I think if everybody does that, we're going to have a really good season next year."
The Bruins will learn from this year's tournament experience. They traveled cross country and defeated Michigan State and lost a close one to Florida in a true road game in Tampa. There is no question that Smith plans to use his current state of mind to motivate himself and the team next year.
"We all hurt and we're all going to remember this feeling," Smith said. "To be that close to a Sweet 16. It's definitely motivation."