Should Gonzaga be looking at Washington native Joshua Smith after his transfer from UCLA?
While I was a student at Gonzaga, I spent the summer in Spokane heading into my senior year. On one warm Spokane day, I was walking across campus and saw Joshua Smith. At that point, Smith was one of the top recruits in the country and was in town playing with his Kentwood teammates at a Gonzaga team camp. Later on in the camp, I had the opportunity to watch Smith play on a small court against some team from Central Washington. While he is an enormous human being, the thing that jumped out to me was how he caught everything thrown to him. I left that small court assuming Smith would be an NBA player after a year or two in college.
I reminisce on this experience because on Wednesday, Smith announced that he was transferring from UCLA after a stint that showed flashes of dominance mixed with bouts of weight issues. Despite immense offensive talent and a strong skill set, Smith was never able to fully commit himself to basketball and all the sacrifices that come with that being a Division I athlete. Sure, there are a lot of obvious reasons why Gonzaga shouldn't take a chance on Smith, but I believe he is a risk worth taking.
If Smith were to transfer immediately, he would have 1 1/2 years of eligibility left per this report from the Seattle Times (note: I have seen it reported in the Sporting News that he would only have one year, which wouldn't change my tune). With the departure of Elias after this season, the only big men on the Gonzaga roster that could contribute next year would be Sam Dower (SR), Kelly Olynyk (SR), and Przemek Karnowski (Soph). Imagine adding Josh Smith to that group as a big off the bench that could spell Karnowski. There probably wouldn't be a bigger and more talented combo at the center position in the country. Should Karnowski have as big of a jump as some may expect next season, that could setup for Smith to start during his last year of eligibility. This would still leave Gonzaga with one of the most talented big men in the country. It would also give incoming recruits Ryan Edwards and Lucas Meilke plenty of time to develop before being thrown on the court.
I would guess that many people would be wondering why I think Smith would get in shape at Gonzaga if he couldn't get in shape at UCLA. The answer to that question is that Gonzaga would be his last chance. Each year at UCLA, Smith knew he had a spot to come back to and that sense of security probably hurt him. If you look at the remarkable body transformation Karnowski has already started to make, it isn't hard to imagine Smith being in shape after a year with the trainers and a diet plan. This is especially true since this will be the last chance for a former Top-50 recruit to play college basketball at the highest level.
Whatever team ends up taking a chance on Smith knows all the risks that are in place. However, the potential reward is a true big man with NBA talent if he can get in shape. With Gonzaga having open scholarships and a good history with transfers, this seems like a risk worth taking to me.