N.C. State’s basketball team has the attention of NBA scouts but not top 25 voters in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
Twenty-three NBA scouts were at the Wolfpack’s practice last Thursday and anywhere from handful to a dozen scouts regularly attend practice.
“There has been a pretty regular flow in here every day,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said of the NBA talent evaluators.
The NBA scouts are not there for Cameron Gottfried, as the coach joked about his son, but rather freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and freshman forward Omer Yurtseven. Smith is projected as one of the top picks in the draft and Yurtseven is considered a first-rounder.
The USA Today top 25 came out last week, and 11 ACC teams received at least one vote and five were ranked in the top 20, including No. 1 Duke.
N.C. State didn’t get any votes. There are still questions about Yurtseven’s eligibility. The school is still working with the NCAA to get him cleared. He is expected to miss some early games but is also expected to play this season.
But it’s not like Smith’s the only good player on the roster. Forward Abdul-Malik Abu, guard Terry Henderson, guard Torin Dorn and wing Maverick Rowan give N.C. State a strong starting lineup without Yurtseven, and one at least one comparable to Florida State (26th in preseason vote) or even Virginia (No. 7).
Then there’s the matter that N.C. State went 16-17 a year ago and missed the NCAA tournament. There’s not a lot of love out there for the Wolfpack this preseason (Sports Illustrated is the notable exception), which surprisingly, is OK by Smith.
“I’m perfectly fine with it,” Smith said. “I know how good I am and I know how good the team is. We good, I’m not too concerned with what they think.”
It’s just more motivation, Smith said. Known for his hyper-competitiveness, Smith might even be taking names and keeping score about the lack of respect.
“Nah, I’m not keeping score but I definitely see it,” Smith said. “Everybody on the team sees it.”
Gottfried normally prefers to slow-play his hand and pump the brakes on expectations. He likes being picked low in the preseason. He notably pointed out on national television after N.C. State’s upset of Villanova in the 2015 NCAA tournament that his team was picked “10th in the ACC.”
But with a talent like Smith, who will represent the team at ACC media day in Charlotte on Wednesday, Gottfried’s not trying to hold back. The sixth-year coach is getting some enjoyment out of being overlooked.
“I think that our players are paying attention to the fact that not a lot of people think we’re going to be very good,” Gottfried said.
Smith is projected as the top pick by NBADraft.net and the No. 2 pick by DraftExpress. Last year, Ben Simmons went into the season as the projected top pick and LSU was ranked No. 21 in the preseason. The Tigers did make the NCAA tournament the year before (coincidentally, losing to N.C. State).
Another apt comparison to Smith would be point guard Chris Paul before he got to Wake Forest in 2003. The Deacons were a tournament team the year before and opened Paul’s freshman season as the No. 20 team in the country.
Maybe the voting coaches aren’t impressed with draft projections? DraftExpress has freshman guard Markelle Fultz as the No. 1 overall pick, but Washington also begins the season unranked. The Huskies did at least receive four points in the poll.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
ACC in the USA Today top 25
Ranked: (1) Duke, (6) UNC, (7) Virginia, (14) Louisville, (17) Syracuse
Also receiving votes: FSU, Miami, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Pittsburgh