Former Kentwood basketball star Joshua Smith has lost close to 50 pounds and is beginning to realize the potential UCLA coach Ben Howland first saw in him before his sophomore year of high school.

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Joshua Smith ran, swam and lifted weights.

Three times a day, six days a week, he followed a regiment that excluded the main thing that brought him to UCLA — playing basketball.

Coach Ben Howland didn’t want him picking up a ball from the time he arrived on campus in mid-June until the first of September. Not exactly what the 2010 4A state player of the year was expecting.

“It was difficult, considering I came down here on a basketball scholarship and didn’t touch a basketball,” said the 6-foot-10 Smith, who led Kentwood to the state title last March. “But I saw the bigger picture.”

And now he sees a smaller, more svelte version of himself. Smith, who also worked with a nutritionist, has lost close to 50 pounds and dropped his percentage of body fat from around 26 percent to 19.

“He worked unbelievably hard,” Howland said, noting the long-term goal is to have Smith around 10 percent body fat.

The toning and conditioning paid off when the basketball ban was lifted. Smith has started 10 of 12 games for the Bruins, averaging 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds with a pair of double-doubles — including 17 points and 13 rebounds against Kansas, ranked No. 4 at the time.

Howland said he saw the potential in Smith when he watched him play in an AAU tournament the summer before his sophomore year at Kentwood.

“He was fantastic,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I fell in love with him the first time I saw him play. Josh is really special in terms of his talent because he has great hands, unbelievable hands, and wonderful feet for a guy his size.”

Howland sees a bright future for Smith at UCLA and in the NBA.

“He’s going to be a great player for us and he’ll be a next-level guy,” Howland said.

Smith admits he has NBA aspirations, “but right now I’m just trying to enjoy college.”

He took two summer-school sessions and said he plans to major in business economics. He also intends to continue to work toward that body-fat goal.

“I’m getting there,” Smith said. “I’ve just got to keep going. I’m happy with my results now, but I can see my potential, where this could lead to.”

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com