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UCLA’s weighty issues still center on Josh Smith

Jul 26, 2011, 11:25 PM EDT

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(Too many puns in that headline?)

The last thing Ben Howland needs is another sub-par season at UCLA.

The Bruins missed the NCAA tournament in 2010 and shook off a rough start last season to get back to the Big Dance and finish second in the Pac-10. That was enough to silence any hot seat talk that popped up, but another slow start or Pac-12 issues in 2012 will create miffed fans in L.A.

An out-of-shape Joshua Smith won’t help, either.

Smith, the talented sophomore center who averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game last season, has gained about 10 pounds this summer – when he probably should’ve lost 10 or 20. Howland apparently wasn’t too happy when he told that to CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish.

UCLA’s frontline will be its strength next season. Smith’s the most dynamic presence on that line and the key to the Bruins conference title hopes. When he’s on, he’s a force. But he’s 6-10 and 305 pounds (at least). Any heavier and he’ll lose effectiveness because of fatigue and no explosiveness.

Will he lose the weight by October? Maybe. It’s been an issue since before he arrived at UCLA and it’ll almost certainly be an issue when he’s in the NBA. He learned to control his temper and his fouls (somewhat) last year, which was a major factor in UCLA’s late surge.

But the weight is the big issue. And UCLA can’t afford it to be in 2011-12.

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