Freshmen don’t normally do media days.
Kyrie Irving didn’t. Harrison Barnes didn’t. Jahlil Okafor didn’t.
But Dennis Smith?
The highly-touted N.C. State freshman point guard has a knack for embracing the spotlight. To Smith, eight hours with the assembled ACC media on Wednesday in Charlotte doesn’t add any more pressure to the upcoming season.
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Smith, who was voted first-team All-ACC and picked to be the league’s rookie of the year, said he had fun. Besides time in front of the camera, he got to interact with ESPNU’s “little experts” panel of young kids and he met North Carolina legend Phil Ford on radio row.
“I try to have fun with everything I’m doing so there won’t be too much stress on me,” Smith said. “I played on the dirt court at my grandma’s house and now I do interviews at the Ritz-Carlton, a place I had never been before. And my grandma can see that, so that’s exciting.”
Grandma is Gloria Smith, a lifelong N.C. State fan. The dirt court in front of her house in Godwin, outside of Fayetteville, is where Smith got his start playing basketball.
He has risen up recruiting rankings and NBA draft projections, No. 1 overall on one major site, despite missing his senior season of high school with a major knee injury.
Smith enrolled at N.C. State in January so he already has a head start on the college experience and has put in some time with his teammates.
Most schools don’t send freshmen to media day because they don’t want to over-inflate their egos or step on the toes of their veteran teammates.
That’s not an issue with Smith, who has quickly asserted himself as the Wolfpack’s leader.
“He’s one of the keys to our success,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said. “We’re putting our faith in him and we trust him to go out there and lead us.”
That’s the thing, I’m not focused on living up to any expectations, I just want to win games.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried did initially balk at sending Smith to Charlotte. But Smith, Gottfried said, did an “A-plus job.”
“It was the right move,” Gottfried said. “He’s going to be the face of our team this year. I’m glad we did it.”
The expectations and hype for Smith, a five-star recruit, have been building since the end of last season.
N.C. State went 16-17 last year, and missed the NCAA tournament, but had Smith in the fold and the return of senior guard Terry Henderson from injury and sophomore guard Torin Dorn, who had to sit out last year under transfer rules.
Smith’s star rose even more this summer after standout showings at Chris Paul’s camp and the adidas Nations camp.
“He’s one of the players that you’ve got to see it,” Abu said. “Sadly, you guys won’t have a chance to suit up with him and be on his team, but it’s a special feeling.”
All of the buildup might lead to unrealistic expectations. It’s not like Smith’s going to average 25 points and 12 assists a game or some ridiculous stat line.
“I don’t worry about that and I’m going to tell you why,” Smith said of trying to put up video-game numbers. “I believe if you would say something like that, then you can’t know too much about basketball. You gotta be just a ‘Twitter guy’ that just wants a reaction.”
Smith said he takes the compliments, and preseason honors, in stride. Gottfried said Smith has learned how to use the expectations as motivation.
“I think it fuels him,” Gottfried said. “He loves it. He wants to be the best and he’s not the kind of player that shies away from expectations.”
Gottfried has already added to the buildup of Smith’s debut by calling him the best guard in college basketball. The sixth-year coach hasn’t tried to walk back those comments from last month.
“I’ve watched him every day,” Gottfried said. “If there’s another guy out there better, I’d like to see him. I think he has a chance to do something special this year.”
Smith believes the same. Pressure for a freshman at media day? Nah. There’s no one who could exceed Smith’s confidence in himself.
“Like I said, I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself,” Smith said. “I believe I’m the best. I have a lot of confidence in my team. I think we have the best team.
“That’s the thing, I’m not focused on living up to any expectations, I just want to win games.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio