Dennis Smith: A Dreamville Native Works His Way Back After ACL Injury And Wins ACC Rookie of the Year Award

Photo Courtesy of North Carolina State Athletics.

By David Cordova

Every year, there’s a freshman class that comes into college basketball making waves. This year has proven to be one of the strongest when it comes to guards such as UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, who recently entered his name into the 2017 NBA Draft, and last but not least, the point guard with hype and hops to go with it, Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State.

Smith has been one of the more recognizable basketball names in the country for the last two years, due to his highlights from mixtape companies such as Ballislife. But what makes him want to be successful, you ask? “My family, they support me so hard, they believe I’m the best, so I believe the same thing.”

The 6-foot-3 point guard is from Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is also the birthplace of rapper J. Cole, has made his name known around the country for his emphatic dunks and his playmaking ability, but every where he goes, he carries Dreamville with him. “It’s cool, it’s way slower than New York,” Smith says of being from Fayetteville, “But I enjoy it, you know? It’s a really tough city and it made me who I am.”

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Smith drives to the lane in an exhibition game against against Lynn College. (Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University Athletics)

The state of North Carolina, which is also regarded as the Hoop State, has produced plenty of great ballplayers throughout its history, including His Airness, Michael Jordan, former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse, Washington Wizards guard John Wall and most recently, Los Angeles Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram. When asked about the basketball climate in the Hoop State, “Uhh, it’s been strong. It’s been strong for the past four, five years. It’s really competitive and we got some great guys coming up.”

At Trinity Christian School, he made his presence felt, winning a state championship as a sophomore, in which averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 asissts per game, and then a 1A state semifinal appearance as a junior, a season in which he averaged 22.2 points per game and would win the Gatorade Player of the Year Award in the state of North Carolina.

Smith would also make his presence felt on the AAU circuit, as he played for Team Loaded, a powerful program on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit. In his final AAU season with them, he averaged 16.2 points, 6.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game as he led Team Loaded to the Adidas Gauntlet championship in Atlanta, Georgia and an Adidas Uprising Summer Championship title in Las Vegas.

He also spent a couple of sessions playing for Team Penny, a program run by and named after former NBA star, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, on the Nike EYBL circuit, in which he averaged 12 points and 2.9 assists per game.

Smith’s outstanding play around the country would earn him a ranking as the No. 4 overall recruit in the class of 2016 and also as the No. 1 point guard in his class by ESPN.

adidas Uprising Summer Championships
Smith handling the ball at the Adidas Summer Championships in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Adidas Basketball)

With all of those accolades and highlights on YouTube, it seemed as if he had it made. But then reality would pay an unwelcome visit, when on August 7th, 2015, he would suffer an injury that could be the death nail to a player’s career, an ACL tear, while competing in the Adidas Nations event in Los Angeles, California. Because of the injury, Smith would miss his senior season and a possible selection to the event that all high school players dream of, the McDonald’s All-American Game.

“Initially, I was pretty sad about it. It kind of hurt me. I just had to man up, I went through it and I got over it in about two days. I used it as motivation.” Smith says about his injury.

On motivation during his rehab: “The thought of not being able to play. Like, everybody’s out here making a lot of noise and I’m not able to do anything. I could barely walk. My family supported me a lot throughout the whole rehab process and my friends. Those were the main components.”

In September 2015, Smith made his decision to commit to NC State, which is an hour away from Fayetteville. He chose the Wolfpack over other high-major schools such as Kentucky, Louisville and other in-state schools such as UNC, Duke and Wake Forest, schools that he would eventually play against in the ACC.

Smith was reported to be their highest-ranked recruit in school history since the Recruiting Services Consensus Index first started ranking recruits in 1998. He was also a part of what was reported the No. 4 recruiting class in the country by 24/7 Sports, as he came in with fellow freshmen Markell Johnson, Ted Kapita, Omer Yurtseven and Darius Hicks.

When asked about his commitment to NC State, he replied, “It was just the staff, I trusted the staff a lot. That was the main thing. They came to every game they could. They showed a lot of loyalty and they made me a commodity.”

Due to his injury, Smith graduated high school a semester early in December 2015, and enrolled at NC State in January for spring semester courses, in which he would major in Communications. As he began to heal and get back into playing shape, it was apparent that he was back.

2015 adidas Gauntlet Finale
Smith skies over the competition for a one-handed dunk. (Photo courtesy of Adidas Basketball)

Smith had a season for the ages this season for NC State as he would emerge as the Wolfpack’s leading scorer with 18.1 points per game and also added 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had plenty of tremendous games this season, which included:

  • 21 points and seven assists in a loss to Creighton, ranked No. 22 in the nation, on November 20th.
  • 27 points and 11 assists in a win against ACC foe and the No. 21 ranked Virginia Tech on January 4th.
  • 31 points, eight assists and six assists in a loss against ACC foe Georgia Tech on January 15th.
  • 32 points and six assists in a win against ACC rival Duke, ranked No. 17 in the nation on January 23rd.
  • 31 points and nine assists in a loss against ACC foe Miami on February 4th.
  • 27 points and six assists in a loss against ACC rival UNC on February 15th.

For all of his efforts, Smith would be awarded the ACC Freshman of the Year on March 5th. He also made the All-ACC Second Team and the ACC All-Freshman Team.

On his ACC experience, Smith replied, “It was great. I believe it’s the best conference in college basketball. Especially this season. It’s been really competitive. I enjoyed it.”

Unfortunately, the season was not without its disappointments, as North Carolina State would wind up faltering in conference play, going 4-14 in the ACC and also going 15-17 overall and losing to Clemson in the first round of the ACC Tournament on March 7th, which would mark both the end of the season for the Wolfpack and the final game of head coach Mark Gottfried, who was fired on February 16th, while in his sixth season coaching, but was allowed to finish out the remainder of the season.

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Smith bringing up the ball at NC State’s annual Primetime with the Pack event. (Photo courtesy of North Carolina State Athletics)

As for Smith, there’s no telling what’s next. Perhaps, he could be in this year’s NBA Draft in June. Websites such as DraftExpress.com and NBA Draft have picked as high as No. 6 and/or No. 7, which would make him a lottery pick. With his talent, it is only apparent that he has the tools to be successful in the future. When asked about what’s next, he said: “I’m not sure, we’ll have to wait & see.”

Highlights of Dennis Smith, Jr:

Courtesy of Hoop Mixtape.

Courtesy of BallisLifeEast.

Courtesy of Hoop Mixtape.

Courtesy of Courtside Films.

Courtesy of BallisLifeEast.

Courtesy of BallisLifeEast.

Courtesy of BallisLifeEast.

Courtesy of BallisLifeEast.

Courtesy of BallisLifeEast.

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