Earlier this week, North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried took a helicopter to visit one of the top high school point guards in the country. Gottfried could have driven to see Dennis Smith, who resides in the Tar Heel state. Instead, Gottfried chose to travel by air. Apparently the gesture resonated with Smith, because less than two days later he verbally committed to play for the Wolfpack.
Smith grew up a fan of NC State and the program was among the first to offer him a scholarship. It was joined by Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Wake Forest on the list of finalists Smith released in July. In the end, Smith said, he was won over by the Wolfpack coaching staff's effort. “Coach Gottfried made me a priority, showing up, sitting in front to all my games in the live periods,” he told ESPN. “That loyalty meant a lot to me. After giving the decision a lot of thought, we all felt State was the best situation for me."
A standout at Trinity Christian (N.C.) School, Smith flashed his potential coming off the bench as a freshman, scoring 20 points in the state title game. His profile rose in recruiting circles when he dropped a school-record 42 points in a holiday tournament during his sophomore season, and Smith was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior after averaging nearly 22 points per contest. Smith also garnered attention for his dunking ability; one of his jams was shown in SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
At 6’3,’’ 180 pounds, Smith is highly regarded for his athleticism, ability to drive past defenders and finish around the rim. Over 11 games with his grassroots club, Team Loaded North Carolina, in the Adidas Uprising Gauntlet Series this year, Smith averaged 16.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists while posting a 26.8 Player Efficiency Rating. Smith could miss his entire senior season while undergoing rehabilitation after having knee surgery in August to repair the ACL in his left knee, but he told the Fayetteville Observer this week that "It's progressing faster than what (doctors) expected."
“Watch him move around on the floor and he sometimes looks like an old man with creaky bones, but once he decides to turn on the juice there simply aren't any high school players who can stay in front of him. Most likely, there won't be many college players either,” Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, wrote of Smith. “A true aerial acrobat at the point guard position, Smith has the best first step in the class of 2016 and can finish with both power and grace.” Below are highlights of Smith.
Smith is the most highly regarded recruit NC State has landed since 2002, the first year for which Rivals.com released rankings. He also, according to the same service, ranks ahead of a group of elite point guards in the class of 2016. Rivals.com pegs Smith No. 4 in the country, followed by uncommitted De’Aaron Fox at No. 5, uncommitted Malik Monk at No. 6, UCLA commit Lonzo Ball at No. 8, Duke commit Frank Jackson at No. 10 and Washington commit Markelle Fultz at No. 13 (Monk and Fultz are listed as shooting guards).
Smith is the first player in the class of 2016 to pledge to the Wolfpack, but the program is considered the frontrunner to add Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, a five-star power forward who will attend High Point Christian (N.C.) Academy as a senior. Adebayo and Smith played on the same grassroots team, and the big man has spoken highly of Smith before. When asked this summer who he considered a great point guard, Adebayo said Smith and current NC State guard Cat Barber, according to Rivals.com analyst Clint Jackson.
Whether or not Adebayo teams up with Smith in Raleigh next year—Smith told ESPN on Thursday that his first call is “going to be to Bam Adebayo to get him on board”—the Wolfpack in 2016-17 will have the potential to deliver their best season since Gottfried was hired prior to the 2012-13 season. Assuming no players leave for the NBA or some other reason, Smith could join a backcourt rotation featuring Barber, and NC State will bring back big men Beejay Anya and Abdul-Malik Abu as well as the Martin twins.
Smith could elevate that group from “just OK” to “really good.” Will he be enough to help them contend with Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia at the top of the ACC? That’s hard to say, but having one of the league’s most talented floor generals is a pretty good starting point. With Smith knocking down shots and attacking the basket, and Adebayo potentially catching his lobs and finishing around the rim, NC state would feature a potent inside-out tandem that few opposing teams—inside the ACC or not—could match.
Of course, there's a chance Smith will leave college after only one season. The scouting website DraftExpress currently projects him as the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft. But who else could join Smith in Raleigh in 2016? Among the other players the Wolfpack are pursuing are five-star center Udoka Azubuike and five-star shooting guard Rawle Alkins.