You can find the good in any bad situation.
Dennis Smith Jr. wants to believe this, even after an unusually difficult season at N.C. State.
“It’s all about perseverance,” Smith said. “I’ve always persevered through everything. I’ve never had a situation like this.”
Smith expected to be in Brooklyn this week with the Wolfpack with a chance to play for an ACC title and then go for more in the NCAA tournament next week.
Instead, N.C. State stumbled to a 4-14 record in the ACC and coach Mark Gottfried was fired on Feb. 16. The only postseason Smith will get to experience in a Wolfpack uniform is likely the ACC tournament.
N.C. State would have to win more games here at the Barclays Center, five in five days, than it has all season, to extend Smith’s career.
The 6-3 guard from Fayetteville is expected to enter the NBA draft. The Wolfpack’s first ACC freshman of the year winner in 40 years is a projected lottery pick.
That makes the turmoil of this season, and the difficulty in handling losses, more valuable for Smith than anyone else on the roster.
There’s a good chance a rebuilding team will take Smith in the draft in June, which means 40 or 50 losses wouldn’t be unusual.
“Hopefully not,” Smith said.
There is a part of losing, and even handling coaching turnover, that Smith will have to be able to deal with in the NBA.
In that regard, this season has been a good lesson for Smith.
“It taught me not everything is going to be simple,” Smith said.
Smith has already proven he can bounce back from an injury. He missed all of his senior year at Trinity Christian in Fayetteville with a major knee injury. He enrolled at N.C. State in Jan. 2016 to help rehab the injury.
He put up the kind of numbers he expected this season, with his own impossible standards. Smith led the Wolfpack in scoring with 18.5 points per game and led the ACC in assists (6.3).
But Smith, 19 months removed from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament, isn’t even 100 percent yet.
“I’ve still got some things I’m getting back,” Smith said. “When I get that back, I’m going to be ready.”
Smith has been spectacular at times this season. His 32-point performance at Duke was the highlight of the season for him and for the Wolfpack, which won for the first time in Durham in 22 years.
He recorded a pair of triple-doubles in ACC play (vs. Virginia Tech and vs. Syracuse), which had never been done in league history.
But Smith, who is from a family of N.C. State fans, wanted to win games and at least get a shot in the NCAA tournament. The personal success is offset by the team’s failures.
“We didn’t win games, it’s hard to say I did really good,” Smith said. “I would say I was solid throughout the year.”
Solid was not the legacy Smith wanted to leave in his lone college season. He does have one more chance to change that in the ACC tournament.
For a team without a coach and written off weeks ago, N.C. State was loose in practice on Monday at the Barclays Center. When Smith was being interviewed, sophomore Shaun Kirk, was goofing around behind the camera.
“That’s my dog, from way back,” Smith said of Kirk. “We do a good job of having each other’s back, regardless of what’s going on.”
And Smith, even against all hope, said there’s still a chance this team could do something to salvage the season.
“We believe we can accomplish anything, even now,” Smith said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio