Category archive: Georgetown Hoyas
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea -- It was requested Joshua Smith weigh in multiple times a day at UCLA, but in the nine months since he transferred to Georgetown, those checkups have lessened to a mere handful total.
He is accepted for who he is at Georgetown. All the Hoyas want him to be is reliable, to honor the commitment they have made to him by never shirking his responsibilities.
Joshua Smith is a large man. That's not an insult. That's a fact. He's listed at 6-foot-10, 350 pounds. That's who he is, that's who he was at UCLA and will be at Georgetown for his final two years of college basketball.
He has taken the sage advice of John Thompson Jr., an imposing man himself. Thompson is at nearly every Georgetown practice when the Hoyas are home, towering over his son, Hoyas' head coach John Thompson III, and every player, including Smith.
"He told me to be confident in myself whatever weight I am as long as I play hard," Smith said.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsJoshua Smith's weight had become a constant struggle doing his time at UCLA.
Smith played in six games as a UCLA junior last fall but the NCAA wiped those away and gave Smith two full seasons to play, essentially giving him an extra semester of competition over a five-year period.
In his first game with Georgetown, Smith put on quite the show. He scored a game-high 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting in an 82-75 loss against Oregon at Camp Humphreys.
"I think I've weighed in here just a few times and Coach Thompson said, 'I don't care if you weigh 500 pounds or 200 pounds as long as you do everything I ask,'" Smith recalled. "Then he said it should take care of itself."
That wasn't the case when Smith was a highly touted recruit out of Kent, Wash., and UCLA won his services.
Smith never had a real chance at UCLA when he spent the previous year recovering from a torn patella tendon. He was shelved for three months, still eating the same, but not doing any exercising.
Yet, he was able to fool himself and the Bruins' staff after having a solid freshman season, shooting 55.5 percent from the field, grabbing 6.3 rebounds and scoring 10.9 points a game.
The worst was still to come, though. His sophomore season was a disaster. UCLA was a program in disarray. Players were being disciplined for poor choices and the Bruins lost to teams they shouldn't have early and often. Smith's minutes declined, and so did his production.
While he doesn't fault the Bruins' staff for its concern about his weight and cardiovascular health, the fixation on that issue continued to cause him anxiety.
"I would weigh in before and after a workout," Smith said. "I kept thinking I didn't want to let my weight affect me. But then people would say, 'He's lagging' or 'He's barely getting up the floor, his weight is an issue.'
"I was caught up in what everyone was writing about me. Even if I felt I had had a good game or good stretch of games, there were still people saying negative things and questioning me. So I did wonder, 'Is this OK? Am I good enough playing in this shape?' I had to stop letting people dictate to me what they felt. I know my body and they don't. I had to go out there and just play."
Accepting his size wasn't easy. Smith said he felt as if he had to fit into a certain box, and if he didn't make the designated weight, he would feel failure and disappointment.
Being told you're too thin or too fat can have a lasting effect on a person's psyche. So, too, can the constant badgering of making weight.
The number was always on his mind.
He would question himself: Did I gain today? Did I lose? How much? Why not more? How could I gain when I didn't eat more than the day before?
"I was just trying to get molded into what the coaches thought I should be or the strength coach thought I should be or the fans or the boosters," Smith said. "I told people that my whole life leading up to that I had been the same size."
But endurance was an issue last year. His minutes declined in those six games. He was a shell of his former self; the post moves, quick hands and feet couldn't be a factor if he couldn't stay on the court.
He knew he had to get out of UCLA and he didn't want to wait until the end of the season. But when he got to Georgetown, coincidentally after playing against the Hoyas in Brooklyn a few weeks prior, he couldn't last a few minutes.
"I was tired after three or four minutes," Smith said.
Smith worked in the spring on his endurance. He drafted a letter in April to request a waiver to play in the fall. He followed the instructions of Georgetown's staff and faculty. He was optimistic but not overconfident about getting the waiver. While other coaches told ESPN.com they were stunned the waiver was passed without an appeal, the NCAA confirmed that any waiver has to have a documented reason to be successful.
Student privacy laws protect the contents of the waiver. But Smith said his case was that UCLA wasn't the best situation for him and that he had only played in six games, so he was looking for a break.
He got one. Now the onus is on him to prove it wasn't done in vain. Throughout this week's practices at Camp Humphreys, Smith has been on and off the court in spurts with the Hoyas, giving the team different looks with him in the lineup (more halfcourt and bigger) and out (quicker and smaller).
The college basketball world will be watching how long he can be effective on the court. But he's done worrying about what anyone else thinks about him.
"When I've played well, I didn't get caught up in that," Smith said. "The coaches have told me here, if I get tired just let them know. I want to play as hard as I can. I don't know if that's going to be five minutes or 10 minutes or two minutes. I have no idea. I just want to go out and leave it all out on the floor. That's all I can do."
Joshua Smith's ability to get on the court in his new role at Georgetown and be productive, to play a full season without any issues, is not simply about his weight.
This is about his commitment to working, finding cardiovascular endurance and believing in himself enough to crave the sustained energy that will help him be a contributing member of Georgetown's basketball team and, most importantly, staying healthy in the years ahead.
Smith said he weighed 350 pounds when he arrived at Georgetown last winter after transferring from UCLA. He's around 310 now and, at 6-foot-10, would like to play at 290. These are numbers he has set for himself -- with no one's instruction. There is no correct weight compared to height in sports. Some can move quickly at a certain weight, some cannot.
"I've taken the approach that let's not talk about numbers," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "I've told him, 'Let's get to a point where you can stay on the court for two minutes, then stretch it to five and then five to nine and then nine to 15.' Some people can play at 200, some at 250, some above 3 and some can't play above 150. He's got to get to a point where he can stay on the court for an extended period of time."
If that happens, Thompson has high hopes for the highly touted center out of Kent, Wash.
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJoshua Smith says he weighed 350 pounds when he transferred to Georgetown from UCLA.
"A committed Josh Smith, I'm not sure there is a better big man in the country," Thompson said. "He has the instincts and the physical tools to be better than any big man I've had."
Considering the big men who have come through McDonough Gym under JT3 -- NBA centers Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe -- that's quite a statement.
"It's been the commitment," Thompson said. "I didn't realize how good a passer he is. He's got to put himself in position to where he can stay on the court. We're trying to get him to the point where he understands it's on him. He has to understand that he has to be as committed as everyone around him. He has to be more committed. He is getting there. But he's got a ways to go to get there."
Smith knows. He is not blaming anyone but himself, not former UCLA coach Ben Howland, not his teammates at UCLA, no one.
"I didn't put the work in," Smith said. "That was really it. People told me as a freshman. I didn't put the work in. I thought I could turn it on and off."
The big center is attempting to shed any negative image of him from his time at UCLA,
"I had a bad rap at UCLA because I didn't eat breakfast, I didn't eat lunch. I would wait until after practice and workouts and then think I had to eat X amount of calories," Smith said. "I was so hungry then. I thought it was the right way and it wasn't. I've worked with a dietitian here since I got here in January. I'm dealing with portions, eating vegetables and fruit and drinking Powerade Zero with less calories. I wouldn't eat all day and then try to eat 3000 calories at night. Now I'm eating them with small meals throughout the day.
Smith averaged 10.4 points and 5.1 rebounds his first two seasons for the Bruins. He lasted six games as a junior. In his final game for the Bruins -- a loss against Cal Poly on Nov. 25, 2012 -- he played only nine minutes while racking up four fouls before the 10-minute mark of the second half.
"My freshman year at UCLA was OK, and then it was a disappointment sophomore year in my eyes," Smith said. "It was hard to leave my teammates. This was where my mom's side of the family was from. I liked it there. I didn't want to quit on my teammates and go somewhere else. But I thought I might have a better chance of playing. It was nothing against Coach Howland. It was nothing against UCLA. I'm so thankful to everyone there."
Smith has taken advantage of the Georgetown big men alumni since he arrived, leaning on every one who has come through, especially Hibbert. The two situations are very different. Hibbert arrived awkward in his own body, unable to use his size and strength to his advantage. Smith said he was stunned to learn from the Georgetown strength and conditioning staff that Hibbert struggled to do a pull-up or a push-up when he arrived.
But Hibbert worked. And he worked. And he worked. And he became not only one of the most improved players in college basketball during his four-year career but arguably one of the most developed big men -- from where he started as a high school senior -- in the NBA in the last 10-20 years. He is now an intimidating force for a contending team in Indiana. That would not even have been a thought if you saw him in high school.
"One thing I learned from Roy is that I've got to put the work in," Smith said. "I've got to be in the gym as much as possible and use the coaches as resources and do everything I can to be successful so I can be in his shoes one day. He keeps telling me my body is my strength. He said use your body, that's your weapon."
The Hoyas lost Greg Whittington to an ACL injury and don't anticipate his return. Otto Porter, a quality rebounding small forward, is gone to the NBA. Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins can board, and they will. Incoming freshman Reggie Cameron can as well. But the onus will be on Smith when he's eligible. Smith is trying to change that date. He said he has applied for a waiver to play immediately and skip the second semester portion of his year in residence. Thompson confirmed the waiver has been sent into the NCAA.
"My argument is that I only played in six games so why should I lose a whole year?" Smith said. "We've done everything we can now. We're waiting for the NCAA."
If Smith doesn't get the waiver, he'll be eligible in mid-December. Whenever he's eligible, he'll have a real shot to be a force in the new Big East -- if he can last for significant minutes on the court. He said he's working on his pick-and-roll defense, something he said was a problem for him at UCLA. He said he has to adjust defensively much quicker and trying to catch Markel Starks coming off the pick isn't easy. He knows he has to be on the same page with all four defenders to ensure they work in concert. And offensively, with the Princeton basics within the Hoyas' offense, where a big man has to be a passer and shooter, he thinks he can thrive."
There are a lot of ifs. There are a slew of questions that only Smith can answer. This is on him. This is his time to decide if he wants to be a player, not just at Georgetown, but in the NBA.
It may not work out. He may not be able to get there. But he said he's truly committed to trying and working as hard as he can to ensure he is a success. The commitment on the court, with his weight and his endurance, isn't just a basketball problem, but rather a life choice. And the choice is all his.
Georgetown had been in control of UConn, up by 12 with just less than nine minutes to go in the game. But the Huskies have shown more resolve than any other team in the country this season, especially for one that has no postseason chance due to an NCAA academic progress rate penalty.
UConn had fought back to tie the game at the end of regulation on an Omar Calhoun 3-pointer that brought Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun out of his seat. Niels Giffey stole an inbounds pass and hurriedly missed a game winner at the buzzer.
Ryan Boatright missed a 3-pointer to win the game in the first overtime. And then UConn went up 78-71 with two minutes left.
AP Photo/Jessica HillOtto Porter had the big shot for Georgetown in the second overtime.
Everything was slipping away from the Hoyas.
"We just needed to get stops and get quick baskets," Georgetown's Otto Porter said.
And they did. The Hoyas scored the final eight points of the second overtime, capped by a Porter slicing drive with eight seconds remaining to win 79-78.
Game over. Big East title in their sights. A No. 1 seed still a possibility. And awards to John Thompson III as coach and Porter as player of the year possibly on order and engraved.
"There's no one in that locker room that thought the game was over," Thompson said. "There was still a lot of time on the clock."
The Hoyas finish with Rutgers at home and at Villanova, and then conclude the Syracuse series with a season-ending game March 9. They hold a game lead in the standings over Marquette and Louisville, and are two up on Syracuse and Notre Dame.
With teams ahead of them losing and the Big East champ sure to be respected by the selection committee, a top seed is within reach.
The Big Ten is more of a grind -- but not by much this season. How many teams have won 10 in a row with ranked wins during that streak over No. 5 Louisville, at No. 8 Syracuse, versus No. 18 Marquette, at No. 24 Notre Dame and over a UConn team that beat Syracuse at home two weeks ago?
I'll venture to say none.
"We have a group that has a lot of resolve," JT3 said. "We just have a group that said, 'Let's figure out a way to win the game at halftime.'"
The game was hardly a good watch or well played at halftime with UConn up 22-19. But the second half, in which the Hoyas made eight 3s after only one in the first half, was highly entertaining. So, too, were the two overtime periods.
Porter had to score 33 of Georgetown's 57 on Saturday to win at Syracuse. He took one shot in the first half before finishing with 12 shots, making seven to finish with 22 points. The Hoyas showed they have a diversity of scorers, with D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera making three 3s, Markel Starks four and Jabril Trawick one.
Thompson said he never doubted the Hoyas' ability to win the league, even when they started 2-3 and lost at cellar dweller South Florida.
"I always thought we could," JT3 said.
"Because of everything you saw exhibited," said Thompson. "I thought this group had different pieces, unselfish pieces, and we fight for each other."
The Hoyas lost their second-leading scorer in Greg Whittington because of academics for the second semester. But you would hardly notice.
The Huskies played with such tremendous fight.
Shabazz Napier, who has been sensational in overtime periods this season and said it's because of his conditioning and late-game aggressiveness, knew the Huskies would be in the game to the final seconds. He was convinced Giffey's shot was going down, too.
The Huskies grew up with DeAndre Daniels playing his best game of his career with 25 points and 10 boards. Napier proved he's one of the best in the Big East. And if JT3 doesn't win coach of the year, Kevin Ollie must.
UConn hasn't stopped playing one possession, and easily could be in contention for the regular-season title save for a few second halves against Louisville and Villanova and a few late possessions at Marquette and St. John's.
"Everything happens for a reason, and this reason is teaching us another life lesson through this book that we're writing," Ollie said. "Another chapter. Adversity is the intersection between character and opportunity. This team has character, and we had a great opportunity."
The Hoyas have had plenty, too, and continue to take advantage of them. What's next for Georgetown is still unknown since this team has a chance to make a deep run once it gets out of the Big East.
"I think we're playing our best basketball now," Thompson said. "I hope we're playing our best basketball in two weeks and then again in three weeks."
The Hoyas have the most name recognition of any of the non-FBS schools. They have shown the ability to create a frenzy in our nation's capital.
They just need to keep winning -- and they know it, too.
"As the league evolves, do I think it's important that we maintain the position as a cornerstone? Yes I do," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "Hopefully we're in a position to keep that going."
There hasn't been a serious dip with the Hoyas under JT3, aside from one subpar season in 2009. They have been to a Final Four and compete mostly within the top five of the Big East -- including last season, when fairly low expectations turned into a tie for fourth in the league and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
AP Photo/Matt SlocumEven if others don't, Nate Lubick and the Hoyas have high expectations for themselves.
"We had low expectations last year but it's safe to say we exceeded those," Georgetown junior Nate Lubick said. "We continue to spiral upwards and that will happen again."
On paper, that might seem overly optimistic after the losses of Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark. But on this particular visit to the Georgetown campus, everyone associated with the Hoyas exuded confidence.
They won't be picked ahead of Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Pitt or maybe even Notre Dame or South Florida, but they expect to compete for a Big East title -- now and in the future.
"You don't want to say there is added weight on our shoulders, but we're going to be good," Lubick said. "We put ourselves in position to be good. With some of the top-level teams leaving, there is some responsibility within this league [for Georgetown]. We don't have the type of football like the others do. We're going to be good and it's very important that we are very good."
Walking into McDonough Gym on campus and seeing the notable NBA players adorning the walls and the crowded trophy cases, it's easy to pick up on the fact expectations are forever here.
"Look at all these trophies," junior Markel Starks said. "It's the aura here. You walk in the door and you've got to win. It's not just about winning games here. You've got to win championships. That's our mindset this year. We have a shot. We have a very good shot. Granted we're young, but from a basketball standpoint we should be very good."
The Hoyas will play a national schedule yet again, starting the season in Jacksonville against Florida on a U.S. naval ship. They'll also face UCLA in Brooklyn with the potential to play Indiana the next day, will host SEC contender Tennessee, play Big 12 sleeper Texas in the Jimmy V Classic at MSG -- all before a Big East slate that ends with a home-and-home against rival Syracuse among the final five games.
Quite an assignment for a team that went from one of the youngest teams in the Big East last season to even younger. With Thompson's early departure, there's not a senior on the roster. And in what Lubick called "an older league built around older guys," that could be a challenge.
But the optimism at Georgetown surrounds the expected breakthrough of sophomore Otto Porter. He was a solid freshman with 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds a game, one of those players who does a little bit of everything.
Of course, Lubick has to make shots within the offense and Starks needs to be the steady hand at the top of the perimeter. But the key could be the rapid progression of Porter.
"I don't know how that happened, but he's changed the way he's good," Lubick said. "He's a knockdown, doesn't-miss outside shooter. He's added a little Paul Pierce to his game. He's fun to watch and gotten so much better. I don't think too many people will have improved more than him."
JT3 took the hype to an even higher level.
"He's stepped up his level of confidence and effectiveness," Thompson III said. "I can say with confidence that he'll be not just one of the better players in our league, but in the country."
Thompson said this season's freshman class should do what last season's did by exceeding expectations. Lubick and Starks both raved about the play of the incoming freshmen and returning sophomores. They fully expect contributions will come from combo guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, potential Thompson replacement Stephen Domingo (who re-classified to the Class of 2012) and even supposed projects like big men Bradley Hayes and Brandon Bolden.
"I think we've done a good job of guys being ready when it's their turn," Thompson III said. "It's not necessarily anything different than what it has been since the beginning [of the Big East in 1979]. Georgetown is a cornerstone in the conference. We don't anticipate any change in that."
The league office said Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Pitt's Jamie Dixon will be allowed to vote in the poll, even though the schools are leaving the conference for the ACC. They weren't invited to the conference meetings earlier this week in Florida.
The results of the poll will determine which teams face each other twice during the conference schedule. Having a tiered system based on those predictions has worked well for the Big East, rather than the predetermined rotations of which teams play each other twice used by the Big Ten, ACC and SEC.
Bill Streicher/Icon SMIBig East coaches are confident the formula the league uses to determine conference schedules ahead of each season has helped in getting more NCAA tournament bids.
The Big East had 11 teams in the NCAA tournament in 2011; it sent nine teams last season. Coaches firmly believe handling scheduling this way is the reason.
"We've been able to give the league the flexibility to balance the schedule," Cincinnati's Mick Cronin said after the Big East meetings wrapped up Tuesday morning in Ponte Vedra Beach. "The repeat opponents have been set up by the hierarchy of the league in the summer. Something has been done right. We've had 11 teams and then nine teams in the NCAA. The coaches were against 18 league games but then it has helped us get more teams in [the tournament]."
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey agreed that the formula has worked for the Big East.
"It has driven us to get more bids," said Brey, who added it was odd not to have Boeheim at the Big East meetings for the first time during Brey's tenure at Notre Dame. "We've got to stay with this formula. It's not too constrictive. We don't want a rotation. We've got to keep an open mind. Some of it is by design, some of it is by luck, but it has really worked. You can sit there as a coach and say, 'If you're in the top eight, you're in the tournament.'"
There were 13 men's basketball coaches in attendance at Monday's meeting. Four coaches stayed to meet with athletic directors Tuesday. UConn's Jim Calhoun and Louisville's Rick Pitino weren't in attendance and neither were coaches from incoming 2013 members Temple (Fran Dunphy), Memphis (Josh Pastner) and SMU (Larry Brown).
According to Brey, the 11 other coaches in attendance, outside of him and Cronin, were: Stan Heath (South Florida), Ed Cooley (Providence), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall), Steve Lavin (St. John's), Mike Rice (Rutgers), Jay Wright (Villanova), Buzz Williams (Marquette), John Thompson III (Georgetown), Oliver Purnell (DePaul) and 2013 new members Donnie Jones (Central Florida) and James Dickey (Houston).
Heath said that there was even discussion about possibly opening up to 20 games from 18 when the new teams come into the conference.
"We had some conversation, but nothing was shot down," Heath said.
Heath, Cronin and Brey all said there was a renewed sense of optimism in the room, especially with presentations from television executives from NBC and Fox. ESPN and CBS have the current Big East rights, but the league will enter a new negotiating period in the fall.
"There was excitement over the TV presentation possibilities," Cronin said. "The Big East can't negotiate now but there was interest in our product. You could see people spending valuable time on the presentations and they say we'll be even stronger with the media market changes in adding Dallas, Houston and Orlando, which only helps the big picture."
The coaches agreed that the conference tournament must include all members in 2013, regardless of that number.
Heath said he brought up to the coaches that former USF player Kentrell Gransberry never played at Madison Square Garden during his career at South Florida because all the teams weren't invited.
"It's meaningful to the players and the teams even if it's one game," Heath said. "It's a big part of being in the Big East."
The format for the 2013 Big East tournament is still being discussed. There are 15 teams in the league this season with West Virginia's departure. Connecticut is currently not eligible for the tournament since it is not allowed to play in the postseason because of an NCAA ban for poor academics.
The coaches said the plan would be a for 14-team tournament with two games on Tuesday (instead of the previous four) and the rest of the schedule going forward from Wednesday on during championship week with the remaining teams.
Brey said the number of games for an 18-team Big East is still an issue.
"Everybody wants to play everybody," Brey said. "We can't have no-plays. And we need all of the schools to come to New York. A lot of these schools do a lot of business around the Big East tournament. We've got to figure out a way to do this. We're going to figure this all out together."