- Christopher Lawlor, High School Basketball
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Josh Smith, the top-ranked center in the ESPNU 100 who couldn't make a layup as a fifth grader, told ESPN.com on Tuesday he's headed to UCLA.
Smith, the 6-foot-10, 270-pound post of Kentwood High in Covington, Wash., chose the Bruins over Pac-10 rival Washington.
"In the end, the chance of winning a national championship and the tradition helped make up my mind," Smith said. "We'll have a young team [in 2010] but we're going to be good."
Smith's AAU coach, Daryll Hennings of the Seattle Rotary Select, reminisced about his latest prodigy on Tuesday.
"It seems like yesterday that Josh was the kid who couldn't make a lay-in; all the kids thought he was horrible, but look at him now," said Hennings, who also mentored Seattle-area products Aaron Brooks, Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson, Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford, Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart, Brandon Roy and Rodney Stuckey.
"UCLA did a great job recruiting him; they started recruiting him first when Josh was in the ninth grade. It's good he's staying on the West Coast. Obviously, UCLA has a great history with big guys; they've done pretty good over the years," he said.
The Bruins' lineage is impressive: Lew Alcindor (who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton, Marcus Johnson, Swen Nater and most recently Kevin Love.
"I'm just taking it all in," Smith said. "I'm just the next guy. The others before me have done so much. There's so much tradition at the position; I'm honored to be a part of it."
Washington ultimately fell short in recruiting the hometown prep superstar. Hennings thought Smith was the final piece to the Huskies puzzle but is supportive of the decision.
"It would have been nice if he stayed home but he was enamored with that L.A. thing," Hennings said.
"It was really hard telling Washington," Smith said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people, the kids and teachers at school, wanted me to stay home. I understand their feelings. I'm comfortable with the decision and have the support of my parents, family and friends."
Smith added that he will sign his binding national letter of intent later this week but didn't reveal a day.
Last season he was a first-team All-State after averaging 26.7 points as Kentwood (19-7) tied for the league title with Federal Way (Tacoma) but fell 51-41 in the 4A West Central District tournament to Kentridge (Kent). The point total was Kentwood's lowest of the season, but Smith recorded 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.
Smith told ESPN.com his main goal this season is to help Kentwood qualify for the Class 4A state tournament. Kentwood is among the preseason favorites to claim the elusive large-school title.
This fall Smith returned to the football field after a long absence as a two-way lineman for Kentwood, which posted a 7-3 record. He caught a 2-yard touchdown pass on one reception on offense and added nine tackles and 1½ sacks on defense.
"All went well this season, although I was disappointed we lost in the first round of the playoffs last week," he said. "I enjoyed my time playing. I have no regrets."
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.
Josh Smith, the top-ranked center in the ESPNU 100 who couldn't make a layup as a fifth grader, verbally committed to UCLA, his AAU coach, Daryll Hennings, said Tuesday afternoon.