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Arizona basketball: Ray Smith talks about his recovery from ACL injury

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The freshman has gotten considerably stronger and was recently cleared to start jogging

Chris Coduto/Getty Images

While the Arizona Wildcats look continue their winning streak and stay atop the Pac-12 Conference, freshman Ray Smith, who tore his ACL in October, continues on the road to recovery.

His knee injury has obviously limited what he can and can't do on the court, but there is one thing that it does it allow for -- getting stronger. And Smith has taken advantage.

"This year has just been all lifting," Smith said at a press conference* on Tuesday. "[Chris] Rounds (the Associate Director of Performance Enhancement) does an amazing job and I’ve taken it upon myself to just try to get as big as I can physically and it’s helped me a lot."

"I believe that everything happens for a reason and of course when it first happened, I was down," he continued. "But it’s really helped me to better my strengths and focus on my weaknesses. My weakness was that I wasn’t physically gifted as far as being strong."

When Smith got to Tucson in July, he weighed 205 pounds. Now, the 6-foot-8 forward clocks in at 220 pounds.

"I want to get to about 225, five percent body fat," he said. "Right now I’m trying to get ten more [pounds] and then as the summer goes, start to cut off this body fat that I have right now."

Of course, this is Smith's second ACL tear in three years. He tore his left ACL in his junior year in high school, and this time around it was his right ACL.

"I think it’s just that I may have grown too fast or something," he speculated about the cause of the injuries. "You never know. With stuff like this there’s just so many different things that could affect it. And going into my sophomore year I grew six inches in a short amount of time so that could be one thing. And without the strength, things start to give out."

With this being Smith's second go-around on the recovery trail, the rehabilitation process is already familiar to him.

"This time is actually easier because I went through the other one," he said. "I know what I can do and can’t do. I know how hard to push, how hard not to push, and I kind of got through this one a little bit easier."

Smith's condition continues to improve, and his activity on the court is increasing.

"I’ve actually been cleared to jog," he said. "I’m currently doing shooting with the team whenever we’re doing drills, I shoot by myself, I’m allowed to do ballhandling, so there’s a lot of things I’m still able to work on."

Surely, Smith would rather be playing than sitting or being limited to low-intensity workouts, but being sidelined is also proving to be a valuable learning experience.

"Being a freshman, coach would yell at [me] all the time," he said. "He would yell about packline defense and me, not knowing the game as well as he does, I didn’t see it. Being on the bench, I see how important tagging the roller is, or getting to the middle or things as such."

"And it’s good to get on these road trips and see how things work at different schools. I'll be a rookie and a vet going into next year."

Yet, one can't help but think how different the Wildcats' season would be if Smith was healthy this year. A forward of Smith's talent, size, and athleticism is missing on Arizona's roster. He just well might have been the perimeter defender the team desperately needs to be a more complete team. Though that simply wasn't the hand the Wildcats were dealt and they've had to adjust accordingly.

But Ray will make his impact at Arizona eventually.

"I have time, that's the beautiful thing," he said. "I can take my time, get [my knee] as strong as I can, and then once I feel like I’m ready and I have the confidence, I’ll be able to go strong."

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*all quotes transcribed from ArizonaWildcats.com