CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA
CHRIS BIEN/THE HOYA

Although the season hasn’t even started, Georgetown scored a huge win this week.

Huge in every sense of the word.

The NCAA has granted two full years of eligibility — effective immediately — to junior center Josh Smith, who transferred to the Hilltop from UCLA after leaving the Bruins in November 2012.

Smith, a 6-foot-10, 350-pound center, was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and made the Pac-10 all-freshman team upon arriving at UCLA. But issues with weight control and struggles within Head Coach BenHowland’s system — famously excoriated by Sports Illustrated in a 2012 expose — led to a disappointing career in the blue and gold for a man once expected to be the next great UCLA center.

After two years of ballooning weight and declining playing time, Smith left the Bruins only six games into the 2012-13 season. He announced plans to transfer to Georgetown in January 2013, and went on to practice with the Hoyas throughout last spring and summer. Still, questions remained regarding his eligibility to play this year — until Wednesday, that is.

The NCAA’s decision essentially negated Smith’s participation in the 2012-13 season, a ruling usually reserved for players who suffer major injuries or other hardships.

The news came as a surprise to most experts, and even Georgetown insiders: Senior forward NateLubick said Tuesday that the team was preparing as if Smith wouldn’t be eligible. NCAA rules and ruling history suggest that a player in Smith’s position would need to wait at least a full year before returning to the court. Even then, most expected he would remain eligible for only one full season.

He got two.

For his part, Head Coach John Thompson III doesn’t appear concerned with the decision behind the ruling. He just wants to get his new center on the court.

“We are excited that the NCAA has approved the waiver for Joshua,” Thompson said in a press release. “Now, he has to maintain a high level of commitment on and off the court. He will provide a significant low-post presence for this team.”

Thompson’s “high level of commitment” comment is likely a reference to Smith’s weight-loss program. The big man was listed at 310 pounds throughout his time at UCLA but was rumored to have approached the 400 mark in his last days in Westwood. The possibility of him becoming Georgetown’s next dominant center hinges largely on his weight loss.

The official Georgetown roster lists Smith as 350 pounds — significantly larger than his original playing weight, but significantly slimmed down from last year.

Thompson sounds like he’d like to see him drop more, but the idea of Smith in even passable playing shape has to scare opposing coaches. He’s a massive post presence with soft hands and high-level passing ability, a center seemingly tailor made for the Georgetown offense.

He may be even more valuable on the boards, as none of Thompson’s main-rotation big men stand taller than 6-foot-9.

“He’s the least fun person I’ve ever had to box out,” Lubick said of Smith.

Whether Smith is in good enough shape to be truly dominant remains to be seen. But we do know he’s 6-foot-10, 350 pounds, highly skilled and eligible to play. That’s a big and unexpected addition for John Thompson III.

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