Joshua Smith requests release; UCLA loses two players in one day

UCLA Bruins center Joshua Smith (34) reacts after being fouled out against the Arizona Wildcats during the second round of the 2012 Pac 12 Tournament in the second half at Staples Center. (Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

After bringing in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class prior to the 2012 college basketball season, coach Ben Howland’s UCLA squad had been expected to pull a 2011 Kentucky ride the wide-eyed wave of young gunners all the way to the national championship.

However, junior guard Tyler Lamb announced his intentions to transfer to ease the congestion at his position early on Wednesday. Now, merely a few hours later, fellow junior Joshua Smith has requested to be released from the program as well.

[In-depth >> UCLA junior Tyler Lamb set to transfer to ease backcourt congestion]

Three years ago, the 6-foot-10 forward was one of the nation’s top recruits, but he has struggled with conditioning issues since joining the Bruins.

“I have made the decision to leave the program for personal reasons,” Smith said in a statement. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at UCLA and am grateful for the opportunity that has been presented to me here.”

In line with his status as a nationally prominent recruit, Smith showed poise and promise as a freshman, scoring 10.9 points per game and snagging 6.3 boards, while earning Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. It was only after the season that Howland and his staff realized Smith’s issues with his conditioning were very real. In his second season, his minutes dropped from a healthy 21.7 per game to a disappointing 17.2.

What seemingly feels like a lifetime ago was rather only a month or two before the school year started. Smith had vowed to return to the type of shape that could, yes, return to playing big minutes.

Such was not the case, however. Smith was playing only 13.5 minutes per game while averaging 5.2 points and 4.2 rebounds, both well below his career averages, in the team’s six games before his announcement Wednesday.

Howland, of course, wished him well, but he and his team now must deal with some real adversity.

“Joshua is a fine young man who has meant a lot to this program,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said in a statement. “I know I speak for myself and my staff when I thank him for his time in Westwood and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

That said, there are only eight players currently on scholarship and four of them are true freshmen (No. 1-national recruit Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Tony Parker).

The Bruins have already lost two games, including to Cal Poly, to drop out of the AP top 25.

The team may be wishing both Smith and Lamb well, but they might end up needing these two experienced talents down the road, if not right now.

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