Dennis Smith Jr. arrived early for the 44th annual HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational Monday at Broughton High and soon commanded the most attention despite not taking a shot, playing a minute or donning a uniform.
The Trinity Christian Fayetteville senior point guard, who signed with N.C. State in November as one of nation’s top-ranked recruits, was greeted with handshakes, fist bumps, slaps on the back and requests for autographs and photos. Smith is rehabbing a knee injury suffered last summer that ended his senior year, but all that mattered to Wolfpack fans was a chance to say hello.
“I’m having a good time,” Smith said. “People are telling me they can’t wait for me to get to State and see me in action.”
It got to the point that N.C. junior guard Cat Barber and freshman forward Shaun Kirk, who sat with Smith for the early games, must have felt people were asking, “Who are the two guys with Dennis Smith Jr.?”
For the way they recruited me, I was happy to show loyalty and commit. I’m excited to be a part of the program.
NC State basketball recruit Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith later sat with his Trinity Christian teammates on the bench for their first-round game of the John Wall Bracket, but without him on the floor the Crusaders were mismatched in a 92-65 loss to High Point Christian and Kentucky-bound big man Bam Adebayo (27 points, 11 rebounds).
This time a year ago, Smith was in his second season as one of the dominant players in the tournament. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried made his presence felt recruiting his top target. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Smith is rated the No. 2 point guard and No. 7 prospect overall in ESPN’s 100.
With Smith summer knee injury wiping out his senior year, he opted to graduate in December and enroll Jan. 6 at N.C. State. He will continue his rehab that he says is ahead of schedule.
“It’s a dream come true to for me, having grown up an N.C. State fan,” Smith said. “For the way they recruited me, I was happy to show loyalty and commit. I’m excited to be a part of the program.”
Smith said he has been running a mile every other day. His workouts include jumping and lateral movements, but planting on his knees is a careful next step at this point.
“I think I can be back to full speed by February,” he said. “Once I’m cleared I can start playing pickup games.”
Smith also said he enjoyed the Holiday Invitational so much the past two years he was grateful his school was invited despite his injury.
“This is a great tournament,” he said. “I’m excited for my guys to have a chance to play, and I’m watching them try to get a win. At the end of the day I want to see everybody here do well.”