Smith is big question for Georgetown

WASHINGTON D.C. -- It’s just one hour into the official start of the season and already John Thompson III wishes he could talk about someone other than Joshua Smith.

That doesn’t make him unusual. Coaches like nothing less than talking about guys who are hurt, suspended or ineligible. They aren’t ready to play, so why bother?

Fair logic in an illogical, information-hungry world.

The fact of the matter is the UCLA transfer is more than just a curiosity for Georgetown; he could be a critical piece to the Hoyas’ puzzle. With Greg Whittington sidelined indefinitely with a torn ACL, Georgetown will push junior Mikael Hopkins into the middle and count on senior Nate Lubick to help him out. Both are decent candidates; none has the potential of Smith.

Of course that’s always been the catch with Smith -- he has all this potential, most of it unrealized -- and that’s why the big man lumbering up and down the McDonough Hall court on Saturday morning is the big question mark for Georgetown.

As of right now, Smith won’t be available until the second semester, but Thompson said he’s awaiting a decision from the NCAA, intimating there’s a chance Smith could play immediately.

Thompson declined to get into specifics to the nature of the request.

“We don’t know when or how long we’ll have him,’’ Thompson said. “But we think we should know pretty soon.’’

Having Smith available is one thing; if Smith is ready another. The one-time top recruit followed up a conference all-freshman season with an average sophomore season, his playing time diminishing as the season progressed.

His lack of dedication exasperated Ben Howland, who privately and publicly fumed at his big man’s lack of progress.

Six games into his junior year and Howland’s final turbulent year, Smith elected to transfer.

Georgetown, which opens the season on Nov. 8 against Oregon in South Korea, offers not only a fresh start but also a coach who suffers no fools. Certainly Smith is to blame for his own failures, but he was also caught in a Westwood soap opera that wasn’t good for anyone.

“He has to make a decision if he wants to be good or not,’’ Thompson said. “He has all the tools. He always has. When and if he commits, he’ll see the positive results. It’s a process.’’

What will be especially interesting to watch is how Smith blends in to a team that cares about its defense above its offense. That wasn’t exactly UCLA’s MO last season, unless matador defense is a new trend.

Thompson peppered his first practice with challenges to his team about its defense, promising later that “we will guard.’’

Plenty was made about the Hoyas’ lack of offensive fireworks last season, a display that might fizzle even more sans Otto Porter, but Thompson argues that not enough was said about the other side of the ball. While it mmight have lacked in aesthetics, Georgetown did hold teams to just 56.4 points per game, practically suffocating foes into defeat.

The long and lanky Hopkins and the worker bee Lubick understand what’s expected on that end.

Smith, who didn’t exactly dash back on transition for UCLA, will have to learn.

“We’ll see how it all plays out,’’ Thompson said. “But regardless, I think this team has a chance to be very, very good.’’