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June 27, 2008 at 8:12 PM

Joel Smith redux

Well that was straight out of P.R. 101 to announce potentially negative news on a Friday at 5 p.m.
That’s what the Huskies did today with the statement that Joel Smith won’t be returning for his fifth year of eligibility (though the release is artfully worded enough that it never really states Smith won’t be back, that’s what the ultimate message is). That solves the long-debated scholarship issue for the Huskies, who are now down to the NCAA limit of 13 for the 2008-09 season.
The Huskies had 10 possible returning players from last year’s team and signed four players to letters-of-intent last November. Ever since, fans wondered where the extra scholarship would come from. I think all along UW coaches figured something would happen — someone would transfer, declare for the NBA or not get eligible. Instead, everybody got eligible and decided to return, leaving the Huskies one over. Something had to give, and Smith seemed the obvious answer to the quandary.
So obvious that I asked Smith a few weeks ago, during a chance encounter at Hec Ed, about his plans for next year. He insisted he was going to come back, echoing what he had said earlier in the season, one reason I resisted speculating more about it on here — he was adamant that he’d be back.
Indications are that Smith wanted still to return and that this wasn’t his decision. But the fact that he was getting his degree made this the easiest possible way for the Huskies to get under the limit.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar said today that the decision was arrived at only recently after a meeting with Smith.
“We just sat down and talked through some things and this is how it turned out,” Romar said.
At its essence, this isn’t a whole lot different than the Suddenly Senior deal with the football team a few years ago. Smith got his four years and a degree and in the cutthroat world of big-time college basketball, these kinds of things sometimes happen. Romar has to do what he thinks is best for the long-term future of the team — his job depends on it.
Remember that Smith redshirted the 2006-07 season after suffering a foot injury, otherwise he would have already been gone and this wouldn’t have been an issue. It’s likely the possibility of this happening was discussed then.
Also worth remembering is that the last scholarship for the Class of 2008 went to Scott Suggs, recently given the Mr. Show-Me Basketball award as the top player in the state of Missouri. When the Huskies decided to offer Suggs, they surely figured a scholarship would come open somewhere, and they didn’t want to risk losing Suggs, who is likely to come in and play a big role next season.
As for Smith, he is likely to continue his career somewhere next season at a lower-division school, possibly near his home of Lompoc, Calif., where there are no shortage of opportunities.
Wherever he goes, he will surely play more than he seemed destined to next year with the Huskies, who suddenly have a glut of players in the backcourt. Smith averaged 4.1 points in 15.2 minutes per game last season, never seeming to make quite the impact that was hoped after the redshirt season. Interestingly, two of his best games were the final two, including a nine-point effort in the CBI game against Valparaiso. He was on the court when the game ended, slamming the ball hard to the ground as the final horn sounded.
He will be best remembered, though, for his first two years with the Huskies, each of which ended in the Sweet 16. Smith played 18 minutes in the memorable loss to UConn, forced into extended duty due to foul trouble, then eventually fouling out himself.
He seemed like a rising star as a true freshman in 2003-04, shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 40 percent on three-pointers, averaging a career-best 4.6 points per game, and often punctuated blowouts with high-flying slams.
“He had some exciting moments, that’s for sure,” Romar said today.
But he struggled when opponents paid more attention to him the following season, and he never seemed to have the same explosiveness last year after sitting out a season, something he admitted on a few occasions.
Those of us in the media will long remember Smith’s cheerful disposition, usually accompanied by a wide smile and hearty handshake, and always being accommodating, win or lose. I couldn’t reach him today so I don’t know his reaction, though I’m sure this isn’t the way he intended for his Husky career to end. But ultimately I would imagine he’ll remember the degree and the Sweet 16s and consider it all a success, as he should.

Comments | Topics: Scott Suggs

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