UCLA's Joshua Smith Reed Saxon

Joshua Smith is big, but that's not much of a big deal.

The UCLA center's measurements -6 feet 10 inches, 305 pounds on a good day, and size 19 shoes - are neither commonplace in the Pac-10 nor assurances of success.

Not many players of that size, however, can claim the freshman's athleticism.

He was 5 feet tall in kindergarten - "Everyone thought I was older than I was," he said Wednesday - but played shortstop throughout grade school.

As a high school football player, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar swears, he tracked down a running back from 30 yards away.

And don't get coaches started about his hands - soft like big, meaty pillows.

"I think his hands are really special," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

Consider this: Despite playing 19.6 minutes per game, about the same as UA forward Jamelle Horne, Smith leads the Pac-10 with 3.7 offensive rebounds per contest. His 6.8 rebounds per game is ninth in the league.

He averages 9.8 points on 56 percent shooting, figures that have him ranked fifth in the Pac-10 in John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating.

"They do a phenomenal job of getting him the ball in scoring position, and he just catches everything," UA coach Sean Miller said. "His statistics don't really reveal the true impact he has on the game.

"Phenomenal hands. When he gets his hands on the ball, he goes right back up with it and scores."

Smith bumped his head on the Pauley Pavilion hardwood one week ago against Cal after only six minutes. He sat out Saturday's game against Cal and wasn't cleared to play tonight until after practicing in full Wednesday.

Next to forward Reeves Nelson, who is a game-time decision after spraining an ankle, Smith anchors one of the Pac-10's elite front lines.

"I mean, what a difference-maker he is in the game," Miller said.

Look out, Derrick Williams.

"They're a good team," Smith said. "We're tied with them for second. They have a superstar player in Derrick. It's going to be a great game."

The Kent, Wash., native might not start, even if Nelson sits.

After fouling out of two league games, Howland moved Smith to the bench. At the least, he figured, Smith might be able to avoid a cheap whistle in the first two minutes of the game.

"I don't mind coming off the bench," he said. "Whatever they need me to do I'm going to do it."

Asked if it's difficult to be the biggest player on the floor, that no one sympathizes with a giant, Smith agreed.

"It's hard sometimes," he said, "because the refs call the game different. But I like being tall and doing what I do."

It came out of nowhere; Smith's father is 6-1 and his mother 5-5, and he doesn't have any particularly large relatives. Smith is slimming down, having lost 50 pounds since arriving on campus but probably carrying more weight than UCLA lists.

He's hard to ignore - and will be tonight.

"He's so unique," Miller said, "that you really have to have a game plan coming in."