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College / Nov 29, 2012 / 4:30 pm

Star Big Man Joshua Smith Quits UCLA Basketball Team

UCLA Bruins

The jokes are easy to make, but the reality is another sad cautionary tale that gifts can be taken away as swiftly as they are realized.

Just two years ago as a 6-10, 270-pound freshman, Joshua Smith came to the UCLA Bruins as the key cog in a recruiting class that was meant to replenish the talent lost in recent years. Smith was a major recruit ranked 23rd by Rivals.com and 20th by ESPN.com back in 2010. He was a McDonald’s All-American and a part of the Jordan Brand Classic. But ever since then, his conditioning has slowly regressed and his minutes have evaporated. It all led to this: UCLA announced that Smith, averaging 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.5 minutes a game this season, has quit the basketball team.

The reaction to Smith leaving the Bruins on Wednesday was quick, filled with puns, and sad that the jokes were easier than articulating the major issue of another young basketball player falling to his vice.

“Josh Smith was a big (literally) disappointment but his transfer [from] UCLA is bad news for Ben Howland. I thought Tyler Lamb could help UCLA too.” – Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops)

“Josh Smith is transferring to Golden Corral would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Food has cost this kid millions. That’s not hyperbole.” – Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS)

“Josh Smith just quit UCLA’s team. I feel bad for vulture gear wanting managers – unless you want a tent, his gear is too big to snag” – Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow)

“UCLA has confirmed that Josh Smith has left the team. Sad. Really nice kid with loads of talent. Just never able to get in shape.” – Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS)

His vice was not a crime. It was not drugs, but rather it was the simple notion that he could not limit himself from consuming the end to this current chapter in his career. That is not a joke that food cost him millions of future dollars in basketball; Smith was regarded as a first-round talent a few years back before he decided to come back to school.

He has unfortunately played his way off the court due to his lack of discipline off the court. For two-plus years, Smith reportedly fluctuated between 310 pounds (being generous here) and 270 pounds, and as he grew, his minutes shrunk and shrunk. As a freshman he was a legitimate impact player, scoring 10.9 points with 6.3 rebounds in 21.7 minutes a game while shooting 56 percent from the field. Since then the production vanished. He saw his minutes drop by 4.5 a night as a sophomore, and then by another 3.7 a game this season before he walked away from the program.

This raises questions about college programs in general and in this spotlight, how they take care of their student-athletes. How does one of the most storied programs in the history of sports allow Smith to throw his career away, bite by bite?

It is 100 percent up to the person to choose their actions and make good decisions. By no means is Smith absolved of this because of age alone. On the other hand it is up to adults to ensure the safety of kids, from outside forces and at times from themselves. This is one of those situations where a kid needed saving from himself. Smith wasn’t using drugs, alcohol or committing crimes – on the surface easier things to deal with because of familiarity. But he needed help.

Smith did this to himself, but having the resources at hand or the assistance to truly help get himself on track have to be mentioned. He lost 15 pounds when consulting with a nutritionist over the summer. Imagine the impact of having a full-time nutritionist on campus for him?

At one point Smith went from being a nimble big man who was overweight but played with finesse and skill that was unmatched by athletes his size.

If anything, Smith is an example of what heralded freshman Tony Parker does not want to become. Smith’s career is not over, but he is now another example, a cautionary tale for talented basketball players on the elements of self control and dedication to becoming great, no matter the vice.

What do you think?

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