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Original Issue

Dealing with Kid Stuff


When 6'9" Josh Smith won the slam dunk title last month at All-Star weekend, he demonstrated the phenomenal athleticism that prompted the Hawks to pick him 17th out of Oak Hill Academy last June. But many teams weren't as high on Smith, fearing that he might rely too heavily on his superior talent and not develop as a complete player. At week's end Smith, 19, was averaging 8.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.84 blocks--tops among rookies. "Josh makes some of the most amazing blocks I've ever seen," says forward Antoine Walker, who teamed with Smith in Atlanta before being traded last month to Boston. "If I was him, I'd watch a lot of film of [Jazz forward Andrei] Kirilenko."

Smith likes the comparison. "We're similar players," he says. But Atlanta coach Mike Woodson notes one big difference: "Kirilenko knows how to play."

Woodson spends a large part of every day exhorting Smith and his three fellow rookies--Josh Childress, Donta Smith and Royal Ivey--to learn the little things that will help the Hawks (10--50 through Sunday) turn from losers into winners. But it is becoming harder for him to get through to Smith, who hit the rookie wall last week in part because he was still exhausted by All-Star weekend (and perhaps a little too satisfied by his newfound celebrity). "He's not as active as he was," says 25-year-old team captain Al Harrington, who also jumped to the NBA from high school. "At that age, as much as someone tries to tell you things, it doesn't register until you've experienced it yourself."