The Wolfpacker

November 2015 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 137 of 155

136 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY JACEY ZEMBAL S tar senior point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has accepted he's in a holding pattern. Smith is patiently waiting until he signs his letter of intent with NC State, and then will look forward to playing in an organized game again. The latter is due to tearing the ACL in his left knee Aug. 2 at the adidas Nations individual camp in Long Beach, Calif. Smith knew the injury was bad as soon it happened, but the competitor in him also wanted to keep playing. He knew if he could just play one more day, he'd get the chance to show why he's the No. 4-ranked player in the country according to both and ESPN. The Fayetteville (N.C.) Trinity Christian standout tried to convince the trainers he was OK, but he wasn't. Smith eventually underwent surgery Aug. 7, and his fall has been defined by finishing off his recruitment and rehabili- tation. Smith took care of the first task by picking NC State over North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Louisville and Ken- tucky on Sept. 10, becoming the highest- ranked Wolfpack commitment in the Ri- era (since 2003). Smith combines good size at 6-3 and 180 pounds with electrifying leaping, the abil- ity to drive to the rim and play at varying tempos, and a good three-point shot. The nation's top point guard is itching to show his variety of skills, but he knows getting healthy and ready for NC State is the most important immediate goal. "Rehab is going great, and I'm ahead of schedule," Smith said. "We've worked on my jumping, and, up next, I'll see if I can start running again. "The hard part about this injury is bal- ancing getting stronger with it and letting it heal. It's difficult finding a medium. I feel I've accomplished 50 percent of the rehab, and I've conquered the mental as- pect already." He can't wait to see how his game meshes with the current NC State schol- arship players, none of who are seniors. Smith is also working on helping the Wolfpack land five-star tal- ents such as post player Edrice Adebayo of High Point (N.C.) Christian, shooting guard Rawle Alkins of Raleigh Word of God and center Udoka Azubuike of Jack- sonville (Fla.) Potter's House in November. All three of his friends played in the Under Armour-sponsored Elite 24 outdoor all-star game Aug. 22 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Smith had the option to attend and take in all the perks of the game for the second straight year, but he couldn't even bring himself to watch it on ESPNU. NC State head coach Mark Gottfried and assistant coaches Orlando Early, Bobby Lutz and Rob Moxley prioritized Smith early in his prep career. The Wolfpack watched him every chance they could dur- ing the April and July evaluation periods. Smith said Gottfried earned his trust dur- ing his numerous unofficial visits. Now when the two talk, it's about what they can achieve together next year. "The main thing he is going over is the different level of focus it is going to be next year, going from high school to college ball," Smith said. "It's going to be a lot tougher, and he's going to be a lot tougher on me, which I expect and appreciate. It's about being mentally prepared for the next level." Smith knows the Wolfpack have a ton of dunkers just waiting to catch his lob passes when he arrives on campus. "With the pieces that they have, if some of them stay next year, we'll be in pretty good shape," Smith said. "We'll be one of the best teams in the country. I just want to see them be as aggressive as they are in practice this fall, and have it carry over to the games." Smith grew up playing basketball in the grass and dirt of his yard in Godwin, N.C., which is northeast of Fayetteville off I-95. He actually loved football more than hoops, and also played baseball. He eventually gave up baseball due to playing in basketball events during the summer, which started when he was 9 years old. Smith did play football his first two years at Trinity Christian, and would have likely been a high-major recruit at corner- back. Now, his football mind is restricted to dominating friends in the Madden NFL video game by EA Sports. "My pops [Dennis Smith Sr.] had me working out when I was young," Smith said. "My cousin Isaiah Whorley and I would be outside playing all the time. His sister would come out and play with us, and it was just really competitive. I figured if I could play with them, I could play with anybody." Smith remembers his first dunk in a game came during the eighth grade while playing with the Karolina Diamonds trav- eling team in a state AAU tournament. He threw the ball off the backboard and slammed it home while playing at the Gar- ner Road facility in the Triangle area. Little did he know his path would go through Raleigh five years later. Smith grew up a State fan thanks to his grandmother. The Smith family is close- knit, and he has two younger siblings — a brother and sister — and one older sister, De'Aira Smith, who attends Fayetteville State. Several aunts have also played a role in his fandom, while his father has been his Team Loaded NC coach the last two years. "We just have a strong family with ev- erybody staying in Fayetteville," Smith said. "My family wasn't the main factor in picking NC State, but it was a major 'pro' to the situation. "My family has supported me my whole life. For them to do that at the college level will mean a lot to me and will mean a lot to them." Smith also points to his "four older brothers" as helping him get better in sports. They aren't blood relatives, but they have played a key role in keeping him on the right path. "That is my inner circle there," Smith said. "My older brothers have helped me FIVE-STAR STANDOUT Dennis Smith Jr. Is Rehabbing From A Knee Injury And Looking Forward to Playing With The Pack "With the pieces that they have, if some of them stay next year, we'll be in pretty good shape. We'll be one of the best teams in the country." ■ Smith

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