Nate Lubick is a senior at Georgetown. He’s spent three years grinding it out in the Big East, battling in the paint against the likes of Louisville and Syracuse and UConn on a nightly basis. He’s as veteran as a veteran can get, which is why you can trust his opinion on what it’s like trying to guard Josh Smith in the post.
“Ugh. It’s miserable,” Lubick said guarding Smith in practice. “He backs it down and dunks it on me every time. He’s good. It’s something that’s very hard for another team to prepare.”
That’s all you really need to know about Smith if you’re a Georgetown fan.
There may not be a better low-post scorer in the country, which is scary when you consider that the most underrated aspect of Smith’s game is his passing ability.
“When he’s really good, he’s really good. When he’s a little off, he’s a little off,” senior point guard Markel Starks, who happens to double as Smith’s roommate, said with a smile. “It’s not like he’s a bad passer. Very good instincts, a good feel for the game.”
In other words, Smith should fit quite well into the hybrid-Princeton offense that the Hoyas run. The fact that it’s a “big man school” is one of the reasons he made the choice, but it wasn’t the only one.
“The coaches, they don’t just care about you on the court,” Smith said, “they care about you off the court. For me, being that far from home, [that’s big].”
And while there is always a learning curve for players entering John Thompson III’s program, it’s important to remember that Smith isn’t a typical addition; he’s been with this team for almost a year, having enrolled for the second semester last season. He’s got plenty of practice time under his belt.
“When I first go there I was really confused,” Smith said to reporters in his first meeting with the media as a member of the Hoyas. “It was kind of hard. But being here almost a year now, being able to practice with the guys last year and being able to play this year. The thing with Coach Thompson offense is, with bigs especially, you have to be able to handle the ball and make passes. We’ve been working through it and I feel comfortable.”
Smith isn’t a dumb kid. He’s well-spoken with a quick wit and a goofy sense of humor. He seems to fit in well with this group. On paper, it’s a perfect fit, but looking at it on paper won’t tell you whether or not he’s dedicated himself to getting into good enough condition to be able to contribute 25 minutes per game. Neither Thompson nor Smith would divulge how much Smith weighs or how much weight he’s lost. Instead, they focused on the ideas of production and minutes. What the scale reads when he steps on it isn’t as important was how long Smith’s able to play at maximum effort. Will he be too gassed to move his feet defensively after playing for three or four minutes? Will he be able to get to where he needs to be offensively in late-game possessions?
That said, it’s obvious looking at him that he’s slimmed down some since his days in Westwood.
“He’s in a lot better shape,” Starks said, although to a man, everyone in the program said he’s not yet where he needs to be.
“I been here for almost a year, so even though I haven’t been on the court, I’ve been at every practice with them, every conditioning, lift, workout, playing,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing all of it. I’ve just noticed a really big change, being able to go for a little bit in practice and now being able to go for a full practice, I feel better running up and down the floor.”
“I’m more motivated because I’ve been off for about a year. I keep telling these guys, I haven’t played a game since I can’t remember.”
For now, Smith, who was on the then-No. 11 UCLA team that lost to Georgetown at the Barclays Center, seems to finally just be happy to get back on the court, if for no reason other to regain some of his locker room bragging rights.
“Ever since I’ve been here,” he said, “the guys have been giving me crap, saying, ‘Oh, we beat y’all when y’all were top ten.'”