An Open Letter to UCLA’s Joshua Smith and Ben HowlandPosted by AMurawa on December 6th, 2011
Before we begin, let’s make this absolutely clear that this is not written out of mean-spiritedness, but out of love. We’re college basketball fans. We love our game. We love the players who play our game (even if they play for our rivals and we feign “hatred” for them) and we want to see those players do well. We want to see them live up to, and even exceed, the expectations upon them.
With that being said, Joshua Smith: You need to lose weight. You need to get in basketball shape. No, not the shape of a basketball; you need to reach a level of conditioning that allows you to play basketball up to your ability. You need to lay off the cheeseburgers and hit the treadmill, exercise bike or swimming pool. You’re letting down not only the fans, but your teammates, your coach and, most importantly, yourself. Last year your conditioning was a factor in some of the foul trouble you got into, but you were still able to get up and down the floor a bit and play over 20 minutes a game. On Saturday at the Sports Arena, you weren’t into the game a full 60 seconds before you were having trouble dragging yourself up the court. You’re a 6’10” center blessed with great hands, great feet and an innate feel for the game that should make you a nearly unstoppable force around the basket offensively, and yet your physical limitations keep you out of the game for long stretches at a time and hinder your ability while you are in there.
Look, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Last year you acknowledged that you needed to drop some weight and were working on doing so, succeeding in losing 40 pounds. What happened? Not only has your conditioning not improved since last year, it has regressed. Even if you don’t care about the impact that your poor preparation has on your teammates, on your coach, even on your fans, what about the impact it is having on your financial future? You have the combination of size, strength and ability to potentially be an NBA lottery pick, bringing with it all the millions that accompany such an accomplishment. But do you really think there are NBA general managers just dying to draft a kid who can give them only a handful of good possessions before needing a rest? There are plenty of different skill sets a successful basketball player can have to make up for other weaknesses. If you’re not a great outside shooter, for instance, you can earn an NBA paycheck by scoring in the post, rebounding or playing great defense. But being in good enough condition to get up and down the court for five minutes at a time? That’s not optional. That is a prerequisite for playing this game.
And Ben Howland, you’re not off the hook here either. How exactly can a player make it through two months of your practices and not be able to string at least ten sprints up and down the hardwood together? On Saturday you said, “Josh has got a lot of work to do in terms of his conditioning, and it has got to be extra work outside of practice.” Sure, he does need to put in some work on his own time. But here’s an idea. Since Smith is unable to make any sustained positive contributions to the team given the state of his current conditioning, why not scrap some of the 20 hours of practice that Smith is able to partake in weekly and sit him on an exercise bike for an hour a day? Why not set attainable goals for Smith to reach before he’ll be rewarded with any playing time? When you’re 300+ pounds, dropping five pounds in a week is not a huge accomplishment, but if Smith can do that, he can at least prove that he’s making progress towards a goal. But continuing to trot Smith out there for a couple of minutes at a time to limited success with no reason to hope for improvement doesn’t do him, your team, or you, any good.
Now, we’re not saying that Smith can suddenly turn his body into a rock-hard specimen overnight. It will take a lot of hard work, but it can be done. Ask Jared Sullinger. Ask Draymond Green, who almost looks like a completely different person. Charles Barkley transformed his body from the Round Mound of Rebound to a svelter cut in the NBA. Glen Davis was of a similar size, but was still in good enough condition to play 35 minutes per game as a junior in college. Josh Smith: that can be you. You can drop that weight, get into good cardiovascular condition, and become one of the best players in the Pac-12, if not in the country. Here’s hoping you can do it, because we’d all love to see what you can really do.