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Originally published Wednesday, February 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Joel Smith is staying with Washington

Joel Smith is the only player remaining from Washington's back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2005 and 2006. The last link to the Nate...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Joel Smith is the only player remaining from Washington's back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2005 and 2006. The last link to the Nate Robinson-Will Conroy-Tre Simmons team that won the Pac-10 tournament title in 2005.

But even though he's spent much of this season languishing on the bench, Smith says he's looking only to the future.

"I've just got to work harder and get better at what I'm doing," he said Tuesday.

After playing a valuable reserve role in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons, Smith redshirted last season after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot during the offseason, then injuring it again in November.

Many figured that when he returned this season he would step right into the starting lineup as the most experienced guard on a relatively young team.

He did, for a while, starting 11 of UW's first 14 games. But he hasn't started since the Pac-10 opening loss to Washington State, and is averaging just 12.7 minutes and 2.5 points in conference games.

When pressed, Smith will admit with a laugh that "it definitely sucks" not to be playing more.

But that's about as much grousing as can be elicited from a player UW coach Lorenzo Romar says "is one of the best, if not the best, team guys. He comes in and has a smile on his face regardless of what happens. He's always cheering for the guys when he's not in there. He's got a great attitude. So I'm sure there have been frustrations, but he never allows that to interfere with the team."

Romar says Smith is a victim of the team's shift to a slower-paced style.

"It hurts him that we haven't been able to play as up-tempo as we would have liked," Romar said. "If we would have been able to get out [in fast breaks] more I think Joel may have been able to do some more things."

What Smith says isn't an issue is his health.

"There are no problems with my foot," he said.

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It's been tempting to wonder about that because Smith has not been able to unleash any of the dunks that became his trademark his first two seasons. But Smith said that absence has simply been a matter of circumstance.

"I've still got the levitation," he said. "I've got my legs back now and everything. Just haven't really had the opportunities. You really haven't seen anybody just get dunks in any of our games."

Due to his redshirt year and a year at a prep school before coming to UW, Smith will be 24 years old by the time next season begins, with his college degree in hand. All of which might make some wonder if he would start to look at other options, especially with the Huskies bringing in three new guards next season that will make competition for playing time that much tougher.

Smith smiles at that thought, as well.

"I'm not going anywhere, man," he said. "I'm going to be right here."

Return trip for Morris

Thursday's game at Stanford marks a return for UW senior guard Tim Morris, who spent his first three years playing for the Cardinal before transferring. But Morris said the fact UW has already played Stanford, a 66-51 loss in Seattle last month, mutes his personal feelings a bit.

"A lot of the emotion came out when we played here and I saw those guys as an opponent," he said.

He is, however, looking forward to reuniting with his sister, Tanya, a senior at Stanford.

Note

• Washington has lost 14 in a row at Stanford, its longest streak of futility in any Pac-10 arena. The Huskies have also swept the Stanford-California trip just once — in 1985.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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