With just 16 days until the season begins, Georgetown received welcome news Wednesday afternoon when the NCAA ruled UCLA transfer Josh Smith eligible to play immediately.

Smith, a McDonald’s All-American and a prized recruit for the Bruins in 2010, left Westwood for Washington in January and was able to practice — but not play — with the team since then.

“We are excited that the NCAA has approved the waiver for Joshua,” Head Coach John Thompson III said in a statement. “Now, he has to maintain a high level of commitment on and off the court.”

At UCLA, Smith struggled with his conditioning — Georgetown’s roster lists the big man at 6-foot-10 and 350 pounds — and did not appear to fit in with now-departed Head Coach Ben Howland’s system.

The center was a Pac-10 all-freshman selection in the 2010-11 season, when he averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Howland cut his playing time the following year, but Smith still managed to average 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Last fall, Smith played in six games before leaving the team, the crux of the eligibility issue. Under NCAA rules, players must receive a “seasons of competition” waiver if they participated in any games during a season before they transferred.

Wednesday’s ruling means that Smith will be eligible to play for Georgetown, beginning with the team’s season opener against Oregon at Camp Humphreys in Seoul, South Korea, and will be eligible to play next season as well.

Becoming eligible will not be the final hurdle for Smith to make an impact for the Hoyas. At yesterday’s media day, Thompson III said the center still needs to make progress on his conditioning.

“It’s getting there. By no means is it where it should be, but it has come a long way,” Thompson said. “It’s a work in progress.”

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