Smith getting defensive

It's been almost two years since Joel Smith last stepped into a Washington basketball uniform. With the long layoff finally nearing an end, Smith returns this season as a wizened twenty-three year-old veteran with a healthy body and something to prove.

Smith's Husky hoops career seemed as bright as his smile during his freshman season – a season that saw him average 4.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in just 12 minutes a game, while shooting at a 40 percent clip from three point land. The Lompoc, Calif. native expected to be a key contributor as a sophomore. Fate had different plans though, as Smith fell out of the rotation during his second season due to a myriad of reason, not the least of which was a lack of focus.

"My Grandparents passing away really clouded my mind," Smith shared with recently. "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."

Smith's world was turned upside down once again after it was determined that he would have to sit out his junior season due to a stress fracture in his foot that occurred during a preseason practice. But the jovial redshirt junior never wavered in his desire to get back on the court, and is eager to make the most of his return to the court.

"I'm just looking forward to playing with all these guys," Smith explained. "One whole year is a long time and all I had was a little taste of basketball last year, but it's hardly enough to hold me over. I'm just looking forward to playing with the old guys and all the new guys and getting some W's."

Smith is finally ready to live up to his billing, especially on the defensive end - where his significant re-dedication hasn't gone unnoticed. Fans who have forgotten his considerable potential need only be reminded of his dazzling 15-point, 7-steal, 5-assist performance against Sacred Heart in 2004.

"My main focus is to get defensive stops," he said. "That's how you win games in all sports. I'm trying to come out and get defensive stops and be an example for my teammates."

Washington Head Basketball Coach Lorenzo Romar got a valuable preseason preview during the team's trip to Greece over the summer, a trip that integrated Smith and newcomers Tim Morris and Joe Wolfinger into the fold. Each expected to be major contributors in the rotation. That wasn't one of the main reasons for the trip, according to Smith.

"You could say that I guess," he said. "But I never really looked at it that way. I just looked at it as an opportunity to go over there and get some experience against older, more physical teams and get us prepared for the season. I was a little rusty, more out of shape than anything. We were playing against older, experienced guys who had spent a lot of time together as a team."

Smith had no problem talking about the competition the Huskies faced in Greece. "It's a different kind of game over there and it was good for us because everyone is saying that the Pac-10 is the number-one league in the country and we need to be one of the more physical teams like we were in the past, if we're going to succeed," he said.

And he's still trying to work out some of the kinks. "It's taken a little time for me to get back to where I was," Smith confessed.

But getting back to where he was won't be enough for UW hoops to taste success this winter. As one of the oldest members of the team (Morris just turned 24) Smith is faced with unfamiliar responsibilities and has stepped up as a leader, especially on the defensive end, where he often leads many of the tougher drills.

"We have a lot of really young guys mixed in with guys like Tim and I that have been in this league for a while," he said. "Basically, we just have to go out and show them the things that we learned when we were younger. Since we are the upperclassman now we've got to lead by example, like Brandon (Roy) and those guys did for us."

Smith acknowledged that though the Dawgs aren't as experienced as the recent UW Sweet 16 teams, that they have an edge when it comes to size. "We're real long," explained Smith. "We've got a lot of big athletic guards like we've had in the past so we'll definitely be able to get out into the passing lanes and create more turnovers."

The Pac-10 writers don't see this year being the year of the Dawg. Smith isn't concerned. "It's definitely a good feeling in a way that nobody expects anything out of us because it's gives us a chip on our shoulder," he explained regarding another loaded year in-conference. "Being the underdog is always a good thing.

"There's a lot of athleticism in this league," he added. "We've got to take what we've got to the puzzle and go at it strong, because we've got some good athletic pieces and we need to use them to do what we do."

And what is it they do?

"We play defense."

With so many quality players competing for minutes, one might assume that Smith is concerned about starting and getting his minutes, but Smith has always been confident. "Personally, I'm not really concerned about starting," he shared. "I just want to help get wins, and if it comes, it comes. I can't sit here and complain about it if I don't start.

"I just want to win," he added, enthusiastically. "I'm used to it, and losing just isn't in my blood. The only way we can get it done is as a team." Top Stories