Rarely has a college athlete promised more and delivered less than Dennis Smith Jr., whose only legacy at N.C. State is a dunk that didn't count and a paper trail through FBI headquarters.
Smith arrived at N.C. State in the winter of 2016 thanks to what a Federal indictment now indicates, without naming Smith specifically, was a $40,000 payment from adidas to his father – funneled through an unnamed N.C. State coach – and he left with a 15-17 record after a desultory ACC tournament loss to Clemson, helping get his coach fired in the process.
If Smith shows up at an N.C. State game now, they'll be begging Karl Hess to throw him out.
In an open market, which college athletics most certainly is not, $40,000 isn't that much for a potentially program-changing player who got cold feet and was reconsidering his destination. If Smith had been willing or able to focus his talent on winning instead of padding his own stats, he might have been worth millions to Mark Gottfried and his staff in bonuses and contract extensions.
Instead, with Smith allowed to play by his own rules as the Wolfpack's season fizzled, with losses in 10 of its final 11 games including a loss at Wake Forest where Smith asked out of the game, adidas ended up overpaying for him by about $39,999.
While valid questions remain about the flimsy legal foundation of this entire investigation – it's essentially a conspiracy to defraud the schools themselves by deliberately breaking NCAA rules – the reality is, thanks to Smith and the unnamed coach, N.C. State has now been pulled as deeply into the Federal investigation into college basketball recruiting as anyone. Or at least as deeply as Louisville, the ACC champion in recidivism.
The multiple scandals at Louisville left Rick Pitino so radioactive he can be seen from space, just a pale glow in a whitish suit somewhere down on the surface, but Gottfried somehow landed a job only days after news of a Federal subpoena for his records and others at N.C. State came out. The Cal State-Northridge president who hired Gottfried, on her own, after she fired the athletic director for getting in an altercation with the previous basketball coach in the process of firing him, had a spokesman release a statement declaring there were “no red flags whatsoever.”
Smith was also mentioned in earlier FBI documents published by Yahoo as taking a $73,500 loan from an agent. Other documents connected Gottfried and assistant coach Orlando Early to agent Andy Miller, who had previously been disassociated with N.C. State, as well as agent Christian Dawkins, who was one of 10 people arrested last fall in connection with the investigation.
No red flags whatsoever, though.
Of course, if Baylor's athletic director can land on his feet at Liberty after enabling a sexual-assault program that occasionally found time to play football as well – and Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State all responded to this vile state of affairs by hustling to secure lucrative football-scheduling deals with the Flames – why should Gottfried be worried?
And anyway, it will be a long while before the NCAA gets around to any actual sanctions, if there are any; everything remains on hold while the Federal investigation continues, at the FBI's request, and this will be a lollapalooza investigation if and when it ever gets started. As things stand, barring the disclosure that there was knowledge of the alleged bribe at higher levels, Smith is gone and so is the staff that recruited him. It's not like the Wolfpack would even have that many wins to vacate from an aggravating season that included a single memorable victory, a win at Duke punctuated by Smith's soaring, after-the-buzzer dunk in front of the N.C. State bench.
All the N.C. State fans who have been haranguing North Carolina for its misdeeds over the past eight years (and they weren't wrong) are about to get a taste of their own medicine (and the UNC fans won't be wrong, either). There are a lot of glass houses in college athletics, even at places that insist otherwise, and North Carolina and Baylor and Michigan State and Penn State can all attest to that.
This investigation will have to play out to see just how deeply N.C. State gets sucked into it, but at this point, this much is clear beyond a doubt: Smith took the money and ran, leaving nothing to remember his time at NC State except the subpoenas fluttering in his wake.