Smith's forward progress delayed a night by Webber Rookie's busy homecoming includes UM visit, ovation

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LANDOVER -- Joe Smith wanted his return home to be special, and for a while it was.

His former Maryland Terrapins teammates rushed over to talk with him when he visited their practice yesterday. His family came from Norfolk, Va., to watch him play and nearly 19,000 fans cheered loudly when the Golden State Warriors rookie was introduced before last night's game at USAir Arena. But Washington Bullets forward Chris Webber had a different greeting in mind.

Five days after Smith scored 27 points against Webber in a Warriors win, Webber scored 40 points while Smith was held to 15.

"I am very disappointed," Smith said. "I wanted to win because it's on the road, it's my homecoming and to improve our record."

Webber scored at will on Smith in the first period and used his strength to beat him for rebounds.

"A lot of people teased about Joe doing so great against me," Webber said. "This may be his home, but it's my house."

Smith injured his right hip Tuesday against Detroit, but there was no way he was going to miss this homecoming.

The former Terrapin stopped by for the last few minutes of Maryland's practice yesterday, talking with his old teammates and coach Gary Williams.

He scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Warriors' 115-94 loss to the Bullets. Afterward, he spent time with friends and family up from Norfolk.

"It's great to be back in the area," Smith said. "I'm very excited. It gives me a chance to play in front of the home crowd again."

He says every night learning how to play in the NBA is a struggle, but teammates and Warriors coach Rick Adelman say they see improvement.

"He's been really solid. He's going to be a tremendous player," Adelman said. "For his age, he's such a mature man. He realizes he can't live up to other people's expectations."

Smith has shown flashes of what's to come. He led the Warriors with 27 points and 10 rebounds in a win over the Bullets last week. Last night, he was brilliant at times, scoring nine points in the first quarter, including a first-quarter put-back dunk with his left hand.

"I was surprised that he can go left or right and score either way," Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell said. "He's very athletic and has fit in well."

Williams knows how well Smith would have fit in with this year's Maryland squad.

"I'd like to take him back, just for a couple of months," Williams said jokingly. "I've just seen him on TV a couple of times, and he looks good."

Smith stayed and talked with his former teammates after practice and Williams had front-row seats for the game.

A few months and a few more million dollars after playing for Williams, Smith has not changed. The easygoing laugh still is there, as is the hard-playing style. His mother lives with him in California, prepares all his meals and wakes him each morning.

"The only difference is that I have a little more money," Smith said with a laugh.

He is trying to put on about 15 more pounds, which will get tougher next year when his mother moves back to Norfolk.

"I'm going to have to learn how to cook and clean, and I've never done any of that," Smith said.

For now, he's content cleaning up on the court. Adelman says he has intended to increase Smith's role gradually -- but his play has accelerated that schedule.

"We've tried to say we're not going to make him the go-to guy," Adelman said. "He's going to be someone we'll be looking to down the stretch."

He may not be the go-to guy yet, but yesterday he certainly was on the go.

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