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Husky Men's Basketball Blog

Seattle Times staff reporter Bob Condotta provides a running commentary on the Huskies.

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June 27, 2008 8:12 PM

Joel Smith redux

Posted by Bob Condotta

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.

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Posted by Colfaxman

10:15 PM, Jun 27, 2008


I was hoping you could settle a bet between a buddy and me. My buddy swears that this is you in the music video. I'm saying no way. However, given the uncanny resemblence and recent revelations regarding the limited recreational opportunities in the vicinity of your alma mater I'm hesitant to bet the house.

If it is infact you, I want congratulate you on fully capturing the very essence of what it means to be a coug.

Posted by troy

10:33 PM, Jun 27, 2008

Man this is a upsetting. I always like Joel and was hoping for him to turn into that impact player we need. Don't like seeing the Dawgs drop a guy, especially a nice guy like joel, but I guess that is what needs to be done. Best of luck to him.

Posted by grant

11:01 PM, Jun 27, 2008

This is tough news, but also somewhat expected once all the new guys qualified academically. It is the harsh reality that is college sports.

Joel Smith was a real energy guy for the Dawgs. Not the best player, but he knew how to make an impact, work the Dawg Pack into a frenzy and get Hec Ed rockin'. There is something to be said for a guy who continues to stay positive despite disappointing losses and lack of playing time. He will be missed. His high light dunks, weak side blocks and his hands held over his head in the shape of his number zero while the whole crowd shouted "OHHHHHHHH".

I hope Romar and the Huskies figure out some way for the fans to send him off properly. Maybe a half time or pre game introduction...something to show recognition for all the work he put in here at UW.

Posted by srkboy23

11:39 PM, Jun 27, 2008

This is too bad because I don't think anyone on the team deserved to have their scholarship rescinded, especially Joel Smith. But like Condotta said, in the cutthroat world of big-time basketball, these things have to happen if you want to win.

Couldn't Joel Smith come back as a walk-on if interested?

Posted by Splash

11:49 PM, Jun 27, 2008

I really don't like how this went down. Granted, it's probably better in the long run for Romar to give a senior the boot in order to bring in a talented freshman, but I think just looking at this season alone, Joel would have been able to contribute more to the team in terms of leadership and emotion than the freshman who are replacing him. Usually I would say that you prefer a senior to a freshman because they make fewer mistakes, but Smith has made more than his fair share of bonehead plays over the course of his career. Both Turner and Suggs seem to have more potential than Joel did, but you never like to see a senior go.

Posted by Ryan

2:02 AM, Jun 28, 2008

I might be way off on this, but I was under the impression this same situation happened 3 years ago, and Brandon Burmeister simply gave up his schoalrship and payed tuition and was still on the team. Couldn't someone have done this instead of forcing Joel off?

Anybody know?

Posted by jed

3:27 AM, Jun 28, 2008

This was probably best for the team.

If one of the instate players had chosen to pay their own tuition (at least instate tuition is a lot less) then that would have freed a scholarship and allowed Joel to stay. I believe his role this year would have been more limited than last year. Joel played hard and always seemed to have a good attitude;he had a lot of opportunities for playing time during his tenure.

Willingham has instituted a system where you are guaranteed four years of scholarship and the fifth year is earned, i.e. is not a given but some are invited to stay a fifth year on scholarship. I know Romar tries to avoid this.

Staying as a walk-on and paying his own tuition when he already has his degree probably didn't make much sense. He still has the option of playing at a lower division school on scholarship.

Posted by Josh

5:47 AM, Jun 28, 2008

Joel Smith got a degree, for free, from a major university. While at it, he got to play Division I basketball for four years. Sure, he was on the court for three of them and had another year of eligibility but the reality is, he came in expecting to be there four years and that's what happened. Redshirting your freshman year, thereby expecting to be around for five years, is different than a medical redshirt in the middle of you career, where five years was not an expectation at the beginning.

It would be nice to have Smith back, but he has his degree. And because of the scholarship issue, he was the logical choice. Not because he wasn't going to see a lot of time on the court, but because he's graduating on time. This is not as if Romar kick him off the team or pushed him out the door or went Suddenly Senior sneaky on him.

Congratulations Mr. Smith on a successful career as a Husky and especially on receiving your Bachelor's Degree. Obtaining a degree in four years is quite an accomplishment, especially when considering basketball requirements and commitments.

Posted by patience

8:36 AM, Jun 28, 2008

i'm really sorry to see joel go. he always brought enthusiasm to the game. bob's correct that smith failed to progress after coming back from his injury last year but i still felt he could contribute, especially defensively.

now we have dentmon, overton and thomas in the backcourt, none of whom is tall enough to ride the big rides at disneyland. suggs is going to have to make an impact immediately as our three midgets in the backcourt are going to get abused by taller players.

question bob:

why couldn't joel have simply given up his scholarship and walked on? its not like he needed tution having graduated.

Posted by wayupwaydown

8:47 AM, Jun 28, 2008


Do you think maybe Joel doesn't have the bucks to pay for tuition, room, and board? Especially since he has graduated? He can't play without going to class. He would have to enroll in graduate school or start a second major.

Joel would probably have to pay close to $25k to attend school on his own for a year. Would you pay $25K to play BB for a coach that doesn't really want you?

I am going to miss him. I thought he had a lot of class. It is too bad they couldn't find a way to let him stay.

Posted by Scott W

9:27 AM, Jun 28, 2008

What happened to the rule that if a player has earned a degree and has eligibility remaining, he can transfer to another Division 1 school without sitting out a year if that player enrolls in a post graduate program,. Didn't the UNLV coaches son do that in transfering from ASU (I think) to UNLV?

Posted by justin

9:49 AM, Jun 28, 2008

hans gasser was the kid that gave up his scholarship a few years back, after lorenzo asked (forced) him too.

Posted by husky1225

10:11 AM, Jun 28, 2008

I like Romar but he handled this situation terribly. Any way you cut it, Joel Smith did all that was asked of him, putting the team first, never complaining and, in the end, was done an injustice by the head coach. Very poorly handled by Romar.

Posted by Bob Condotta

10:35 AM, Jun 28, 2008

To clarify a few things:

--- The rule about being able to graduate in four years and transfer to another D-I school was abolished. It lasted only a year, and Mike Braunstein was one of the last able to use it.

--- It was indeed Hans Gasser who was asked to give up a scholarship for a year while he redshirted, then return to scholarship. But it ended up not happening because they didn't need the scholarship (due to Martel Webster never coming and Roburt Sallie not qualifying).

--- Brandon Burmeister was never on scholarship so he never had one to give up.

--- Out of state tuition is indeed about $23,000, so that's a lot to ask of anyone.

--- As someone pointed out to me, UW was actually two over the limit briefly before Adrian Oliver transferred in late November.

Posted by F-Rod

12:11 PM, Jun 28, 2008

Good luck to Joel. I really loved to watch him his freshman year in particular. I thought he would go down as UW's best dunker of all-time, but the injury robbed him of that success. No questioning his desire and heart.

Posted by Alex

12:30 PM, Jun 28, 2008


I thought Hans Gasser didn't have to give up his scholarship because Lorenzo Wade decided to transfer to SDSU instead of UW?

Posted by Bob Condotta

12:47 PM, Jun 28, 2008

My understanding was that it was the potential of Wade coming that made them ask him to give it up, but the other guys falling through that got it back for him.
That's what I wrote in this story at the time

Posted by Alex

1:05 PM, Jun 28, 2008

As always Bob, thanks for the great insight!

Posted by Wolf!

2:59 PM, Jun 28, 2008

Should've ejected Wolf.

Posted by Ryan

3:18 PM, Jun 28, 2008

if we weren't hurting for big guys, i'd agree. how wolf is playing D1 ball still amazes me.

Posted by Randy

3:28 PM, Jun 28, 2008

A few weeks ago I posted a number of possibilities relating to the scholorship issue. On of those was Joel Smith playing a 5th year without a scholorship. I was unaware that he was receiving his decree which does change things.

This makes perfect sense. Why would you want to keep Joel through a fifth year in place of a talented freshman who could contribute more. Washington has provided him with a college education which is the whole point. Those that are saying Romar has handled this poorly are off base. I'll admit my original thought was that Joel would play without a scholorship but what what would his courses entail? And for 25 grand a year?? He is best mooving on with all our thanks.

Posted by david

3:59 PM, Jun 28, 2008

Wolf is garbage man, i agree he shouldnt even be a d1 bench warmer. boot him, not a guy who was a die hard HUSKY. we will regret this when he x-fers!!

Posted by Mix

4:21 PM, Jun 28, 2008

Bob, I hear rumors of UW looking to still add another player for this upcoming season (which means they'd again have a scholarship issue). If they did add someone, any thoughts or insight on what you're hearing in terms of who that person could be?

Posted by woof

7:10 PM, Jun 28, 2008

That would make since mix. I heard rumors that smith wasnt going to be the one to go

Posted by Jamaal

7:42 PM, Jun 28, 2008

I don't have any problem with how this was handled. Joel was brought in for 4 years. Then he missed a season due to injury. I remember Bob and other reporters trying to pin down Romar on whether Smith would redshirt. Romar delayed this decision till very late in the season because he wanted Smith to contribute that year. True Bob? Only when it was obvious that Smith would not play did I the school decide to redshirt because it was in the athletes best interest. Smith could then play another year if he wanted.

The real issue here is that Smith would not have been ahead of Pondexter, Holiday or Suggs at the 3 nor would he displace Dentmon, Thomas or Turner at the 2. If Smith was told this then he obviously would want to move on to someplace he could play as a senior.

Its not an unusual situation at all. Even with the point guard at wsc (haemerling?) obviously Bennett approached him and asked if he would be willing to give up scholly so that they could recruit another player. How else would he have learned about the opportunity to give up his scholly The difference is that the pg is good enough to be in the rotation and has the means to pay for his own education. Smith has finished his education and would not be in the rotation.

Its amazing how skewed the presentation of news in this city really gets.

Posted by Bring Ken Bone Bac

7:40 AM, Jun 29, 2008

Yet another example that (while I love Romar the person) the UW coaching staff is not developing talent.

Posted by rod

2:53 PM, Jun 29, 2008

Roy, Conroy, N8, Tre, Williams, and Hawes all seem to have been developed real well.

Posted by old dawg

12:13 PM, Jun 30, 2008

There simply must be a realpolitik nature to this. Look at the firestorm around TW. The best coaches make tough decisions. It's not Camelot.

No one on the outside knows for a fact that Romar acted badly. As others have said, his conversations with Smith likely centered on the facts and likely outcomes of the probable scenarios. Smith wasn't progressing on the same arc as originally projected, and unless something dramatically showed up off the public's radar, was unlikely to improve.

He gets a degree worth scores of thousands, and has a ton of great memories, and rubbed shoulders with fantastic players. It's not so bad.

And now he gets the possibility of playing out the string at a smaller school where he can be the big fish.

This is the reality of sports for marginal players, Gasser, Wolf, and even Appleby, et al. You want senior leadership, but if others provide something you can't, the team is better off. Loyalty and hard work count for a lot, but not everything.

Best wishes to Smith. His character traits will serve him well in the future.

Posted by dawgma06

4:19 PM, Jun 30, 2008

For all those who are saying Wolfinger is garbage, I would just like say that it is quite possible Wolf wasn't fully recovered from his foot injuries. IIRC Wolf was limited in the amount the time he practiced at the beginning of the year, which would indicate his foot was still a problem to some degree. Considering he had the problem with his feet the last couple of years, it is a possibility that he had not regained all of his foot speed and conditioning during the season. While he does not appear to have the mentality to be a consistent rebounder which you would hope for from a guy his size, there is still hope that he can become a contributor on defense as well as a player that the opposing defense has to think about as well.

Posted by Jynne

9:37 AM, Jul 01, 2008

Joel isn't a very good player he isn't even an okay player, he showed glimpse of greatness his freshman year then it all died off So I'm not surprised his scholarship was pulled. He graduated from UW debt free and basketball will likely take him nowhere. But, he does have a degree which is the point of going to college.

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