UCLA head coach Ben Howland got one relieving phone call on Monday night, from an old friend.
Four years after receiving his first interest from the Bruins, Kentwood (Wash.) center Josh Smith orally committed to UCLA on Monday.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound center chose between the Bruins and home-state favorite Washington in a tense recruiting battle, picking UCLA because of the past, present and future.
The past, because he knows well of the program’s storied history, hearkening back to John Wooden and the team’s 11 national championships.
The present, because he knows the Bruins are a team in transition, with nine scholarship underclassmen and the opportunity to contribute quickly.
The future, because UCLA has been a ladder to the NBA in recent years.
“Not trying to disrespect any other school, but with UCLA, people see those four letters and they remember all those great players, those champions, Coach Wooden,” Smith said. “I want to wear those four letters well.”
Smith has been vocal about his interest in the Bruins for a long while, even speaking often with former UCLA center – and first-round pick – Kevin Love.
He said that he was particularly enamored with Howland’s style of play and commitment to execution.
“Going and watching them play, I just kind of fell in love with their style of play,” Smith said. “It was one of those things where I look at Pauley, I knew I’d have to live up to a lot. I spoke to Kevin Love multiple times and he worked his butt off and had fun, and look where it got him.
“But I’m not trying to be the next Kevin Love though, I’m trying to be the next me.”
He’ll try to get an early start.
Smith said he planned on heading to Westwood in June to get a head start on weight training and conditioning. A fixture in the post, Smith has said he wants to improve his explosiveness.
“When I talked to the coaches I wanted to be an impact player right away,” Smith said. “That isn’t necessarily starting. If I’m coming off the bench and helping the team win, that’s a good thing. We’ll have a young team, and I think it’d be good for us to gel together, get that chemistry.”
Though he’s leaving his family, Smith said he was eager to begin anew in Los Angeles, where his much of his mother’s family lives and his half-brother, who graduated from USC last year.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I have nothing but love for Seattle, but I’ve been down that way many times,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to stay too far away from my parents, and it’s one of the reasons I picked those two schools. (Washington), I play five minutes from, and L.A. is only a two-hour flight for my parents.”
Smith is also not looking too far ahead to his next major flight.
He hopes the NBA beckons, and if it happens to call on him sooner than later, he’ll entertain the option. But he said he is not planning to UCLA to be a one-and-done.
“I’ve been telling people, I’d take it if the opportunity comes,” Smith said. “I plan on staying all four years; the first thing I want to do is get my degree. But let’s say I become a lottery pick my freshman year, I’d take the opportunity. I’m not trying to run to the NBA as fast as I can. Success for most people isn’t success for some people. I’m trying to make the most out of my college degree.”