When Georgetown revealed it was applying for a waiver to make Josh Smith eligible at the start of the season instead of the end of fall semester, the 6-foot-10 center seemed to have a remote chance of winning his petition.
Smith had played six games at UCLA last season before quitting the team Nov. 28. Under NCAA rules, players who transfer typically must sit out a full season before they compete unless they have a case for a hardship waiver.
For those reasons, it was a surprise Wednesday night when Georgetown announced the NCAA had cleared Smith to play at the start of the upcoming season and he will be available when the Hoyas open their season Nov. 8 against Oregon. It's a decision that provides a huge boost to the Hoyas but also bucks the precedent the NCAA has set with previous rulings.
Ex-New Mexico forward Drew Gordon left UCLA just six games into his sophomore season in 2009, yet he wasn't eligible to play for New Mexico until mid-December the following year. The same rule applied last season to current UNLV forward Khem Birch, who asked for his release from Pittsburgh after a Dec. 10 victory over Oklahoma State in 2011.
The best example of the NCAA's stringency in previous cases is the plight of Old Dominion guard Donte Hill, whose college career ended one year earlier than expected as a result of eight minutes he logged in a closed-door preseason scrimmage before leaving Clemson. The NCAA denied Hill's petition for a fifth year of eligibility in June, ruling that those eight minutes in 2010 counted as an entire season of eligibility.
Why the leniency for Smith? An NCAA spokesman couldn't shed much light on that because of student-athlete privacy concerns. In an email Thursday morning, he said only that the waiver was approved after a "thorough review" and the decision was based on "the totality of circumstances and well-being of the student-athlete."
The phrase "totality of circumstances" seems to suggest there might be an unpublicized aspect to Smith's waiver petition that made it more compelling to the NCAA than past cases. Regardless, the NCAA's decision is certainly tremendous news for a Georgetown program in dire need of frontcourt help with 2012-13 All-American Otto Porter in the NBA and forward Greg Whittington potentially out for the season because of an offseason knee injury.
Weight issues curtailed Smith's playing time at UCLA because he couldn't go more than a few minutes at a time without getting winded, but the former McDonald's All-American sporadically flashed NBA potential while on the floor. He has a mammoth frame, soft hands and good touch around the basket, all qualities that can help Georgetown if he can only stay in good enough shape to tap into his potential.
Without Smith, Georgetown would have lacked a proven back-to-the-basket scoring threat for difficult non-conference games against Oregon and Kansas. Thanks to the approval of Smith's waiver, however, that will no longer be an issue.
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