Fayetteville, North Carolina is best known as being the home of Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations in the world. More than 50,000 active duty personnel call Fort Bragg home, making up a decent size chunk of the entire population of Fayetteville. Between Fort Bragg and the town’s rich history, Fayetteville has more than enough to be proud of. On top of that, the town can claim credit for being the home to a number of professional athletes, musicians and even Moonlight Graham, the right fielder for the New York Giants who was portrayed by Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams.
Come Thursday night when the 2017 NBA Draft kicks off Dennis Smith Jr. hopes to join the ranks of Fayetteville’s best. After playing one year for North Carolina State, the 6’3″ point guard is hoping to make his mark on the NBA. Yet given his injury history and the poor play of NC State last year, Smith is somewhat of a question mark heading into the draft.
Heavy currently has Smith going to the Orlando Magic at 6, which is the earliest he’s going compared to other mock drafts. The Ringer’s most recent mock draft has Smith going to the Detroit Pistons at 12, Sports Illustrated has him going to the Sacramento Kings at 10, Bleacher Report has him going 9th to the Dallas Mavericks and CBS Sports has him going to the New York Knicks at 8. Whoever ends up drafting Smith will get a tough, intelligent player with excellent court vision. He’s a gamble, yes. But a smart gamble nonetheless.
Here is what you need to know about Dennis Smith Jr.
1. Smith was Raised by his Father, Who Ran One of the Best Youth Basketball Programs in the Country
Smith, who was raised by his father, Dennis Smith Sr., had a basketball in his hands before he could walk. Knowing that a player who could play point guard could always find work, the elder Smith taught his son from the get go to play the position. Smith Sr. was familiar with coaching, running Team Loaded, one of the most highly regarded youth basketball programs in the country.
In high school, the younger Smith was a standout at Trinity Christian School. As a sophomore in 2014 he led the Crusaders to a state championship and the following year, having averaged 21.8 points per game, Smith was named the Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year for the state of North Carolina.
While in high school, Smith also played for numerous outside leagues and camps, most notably the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, where he played on Team Penny, a team sponsored by former NBA great Penny Hardaway. Along his way to becoming a much-talked about 5-star recruit, Smith attended the Steph Curry Select Camp, the Elite 24 Invitational and the Adidas Nations.
2. A Knee Injury Smith Sustained Ended Up Being the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to Him
The Adidas Nations is a tournament that features that top basketball players from around the world under the age of 18. Smith was invited to play in the tournament his senior year. Everything was going great until Smith went down with a devastating injury, tearing his ACL in his left knee in the tournament’s semi-final game. The injury would cause him to miss his senior year at Trinity Christian.
Yet while undergoing surgery, Smith received some surprisingly good news. Doctors found an extra ligament in his knee, something only 20% of humans have. The extra ligament would allow him to recover faster than originally thought, with the initial timetable for recovery being up to ten months.
Smith would go on to see the injury as somewhat of a stroke of good luck, though, calling it “one of the best things to happen to me before college.”
3. Smith Picked NC State Because of Their Coaches and His Father’s Fandom
Prior to suffering his injury, Smith had been courted heavily by North Carolina State, a school that both his father and grandmother had been fans of since they were kids. Between his loved ones’ fandom and the trust that was built between Smith and NC State’s coaches throughout his high school career, the choice to attend NC State was an easy one. Smith committed to the school in November of 2015.
On the shelf with his injury, Smith decided that his best course of action was to finish high school early and enroll at NC State early, which he did in January of 2016. Enrolling early had a few advantages for Smith. The first was that by getting on board with the team when he did, he had access to the program’s doctors and physical therapists and was able to do his rehab in the team’s facility. Being at the team’s facility already, Smith was then able to get involved with the team early. He watched games from the bench, attended practices and meetings and was in the locker room before and after games, something that coach Mark Gottfried felt gave him a leg up.
“Even though he didn’t play in the ACC,” Gottfried said, “he went through a season watching, and so I think that’s been a big plus for him.”
Smith also took advantage of the academics at NC State and in the spring semester, took a full course load of 18 credits. He was especially interested in sociology, fascinated by “the study of human interaction.”
4. Smith Excelled at NC State Despite His Team Doing the Opposite
Smith’s lone season as a member of the NC State Wolfpack was one of team lows and individual highs. In his very first game Smith took a shot to his thigh and he was forced to head to the locker room to be evaluated. Crisis averted though, and despite finishing the game with a lackluster 11 points and 5 assists, NC State beat Georgia Southern 81-79.
After that game, it was a rough season for the Wolfpack. The team finished with a conference record of 4-15 and when the season was over, head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.
For Smith however, the season wasn’t a total wash. He was named ACC Freshman of the Year and in 32 games averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds, leading the ACC in assists (197) and finishing second in steals (62.)
5. J. Cole Has Become a Mentor and Friend for Smith
One of Fayetteville’s most famous sons is rapper J. Cole. Back in 2014, J Cole and Smith met each other, played basketball the next day and soon became friends.
The rapper has become somewhat of a mentor for Smith, helping him prepare for life in the spotlight. Cole has even recommended books for Smith to read, most notably the biography of Malcolm X.