Smith getting better in every way

Injuries are a part of college athletics. Every player knows it and dreads the day he or she experiences it first hand. For Joel Smith, his recent foot injury is simply another one of life's little curveballs, but he's determined to not to let it derail his life ambitions.

After a frustrating 2006 campaign that saw his contributions decline after a promising freshman year, Smith returned to campus with a renewed focus, as well as a Zen-like approach to his place on the team.

"It stinks not being out there with the guys, but everything happens for a reason," Smith told Dawgman.com. "I just need to treat my injury and make sure it's 100% before I come back and start pushing and grinding with all of these young guys."

His foot seems to be healing well after nearly two months on the shelf. "I've been sitting out 7 weeks now and I could put pressure on it a couple weeks ago, and have been riding the bike a lot," he said. "I've got about two more weeks until I'm 100% ready. It's still a little sore since I've been off it for so long but I should be able to play in the Pepperdine game." That game is Game One of the Basketball Travelers Classic, held Nov. 12-14 at Bank of America Arena.

Smith is understandably excited about getting back in action, but losing his spot in the rotation isn't somethibg he's worried about. "Before I got hurt they (the new freshman) pushed me, but I pushed back even harder," he said. "But they make me want to come back as strong as I can, because we're such a strong group and I want to contribute and help my team out as much as possible.

"I'm not really worried about being the "forgotten" man out there right now. I'm just concerned about getting back to where I was before the injury and improving."

One thing does bother him, though. He missed out on participating in the inaugural Husky Hoopla, as well as the slam dunk contest - his particular area of expertise. "At least it was only a slam dunk contest and not the start of the season that I was missing," he said.

His eyes light up as he imagined what he would have done. "I would have done something everybody liked, for sure," Smith said. "I would have gotten all 10's too."

Smith attacked the gym with renewed vigor during the off-season. "You're definitely going to see an improved Joel Smith," he said. "I spent the whole summer working really hard with my father who was my high school coach and got back to my roots. I woke up early to work out and fix the things that weren't up to par in my game. You're definitely going to see a big improvement in a lot of areas from me."

The ever cheerful junior wing suddenly becomes more serious when he talks about his struggles on the court last season. "It was a little bit of a disappointment for me," said Smith. "I had a lot of things going on in my personal life that really clouded my mind so once I got on the court I really wasn't thinking clearly about the game but about everything else that was going on outside basketball."

Losing loved ones played a major role. "My Grandparents passing away really clouded my mind," said Smith. "Coming back and not being able to play the game that I love to the fullest and not being able to focus really shook me and I ended up having a bad year." He's not looking for an excuse though. "It's the first time in my life that I really couldn't get something out of my mind and I'm not making any excuses, but there were things going on that just kept me from focusing on what I should be," he added.

Sounding a little bit like Zen-master Phil Jackson, Smith shares a little pearl of wisdom. "I just try to focus on the positive things and what we as a squad can do, and everything will find its place," he said.

He is unabashed in his belief of his team's promise this year. "We've definitely had a lot of good talent over the last couple of years, but these new guys are just as good, maybe better," Smith said. "It's hard to predict what we'll do but we have a lot of athleticism and we're really, really quick. We've been fast in the past, but I think we're going to do an even better job of pushing the ball up the court."

So what stands out most in his mind about this ball club that wasn't there last season? "We've got a lot more good shooters than we had last year," said Smith. "We've got four or five great shooters now which is going to make a big difference. Plus we have a lot more height inside and out, so we're really well rounded now."

With a great attitude and a new outlook on life in general, Joel Smith is looking forward to making last year's disappointments a distant memory, while focusing directly on the future facing him.


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