In this photo taken Jan. 2, 2016, North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr., left, shoots as Shaun Kirk watches during warmups before the Wolfpack's game against Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. While his teammates head into Saturday's g
AP Photo
January 22, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. is trying to get a head start on his college career, even if he can only help North Carolina State from the sideline or around the practice facility right now.

The instate point guard graduated early from high school and enrolled at North Carolina State in January, allowing him to focus on rehabbing a serious knee injury suffered last summer and adjusting to college life. He's also carving out his leadership role with the Wolfpack for when he's ready to play next season, down to giving advice to his older teammates after practices or games to help them now.

''I've got a winner's mentality,'' Smith said. ''I want to come in and win. I want everybody to play to their fullest potential. So if I see something wrong, I'll tell them. I want them to do the same thing with me.''

The focus now for the Wolfpack (11-8) is Saturday's visit from No. 20 Duke and trying to recover from a 1-5 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Smith's presence on the bench for home games and around the program has created a buzz about the future, too.

Smith, who played in high school at Fayetteville's Trinity Christian, is a five-star recruit who ranks in the top 10 nationally for his class according to both Rivals and Scout. He also ranked as ESPN's No. 1 point guard when he signed in November.

But the 6-foot-3 guard is still working through his recovery from tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament during an AAU event, an injury that required surgery in August. Smith estimates he's at about 80 percent physically and said he won't try to play this season.

''We're not even considering that,'' he said. ''Not even in consideration.''

Instead, he's trying to help his teammates fighting through a bad start. Junior big man BeeJay Anya said it didn't take Smith long to start offering his observations on ''how to get better shots for ourselves.''

''Someone as young as he is, I wouldn't have expected him to be like that,'' Anya said. ''It takes most guys a little bit longer to reach that point. . When he came in, he really tried to establish himself right now as our point general and trying to be a leader on this team for whenever he's ready to play.''

Fifth-year coach Mark Gottfried has noticed it, too.

''He's that guy,'' Gottfried said. ''He kind of rallies the troops. He'll call someone and say, `Why aren't you in the gym with me right now? And I'm not even supposed to be doing much.' . And our guys respond and come over here.

''For a young guy that has just stepped into the college atmosphere, he's much farther along with that stuff than maybe I even anticipated.''

Smith isn't alone in waiting for his chance. N.C. State hasn't had West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson since he had ankle surgery for an injury suffered 7 minutes into the season opener, and it's unclear when or if he'll return this year. Meanwhile Torin Dorn - last season's Conference USA freshman of the year at Charlotte - is sitting alongside Smith this year as a transfer.

''I'm definitely excited for next year,'' Smith said. ''I wish I could play right away. I'm sure Terry's the same way. Torin's the same way. We're all competitors. We're going to sit out and wait our time, though.''

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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