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Former NCSU guard Dennis Smith Jr. ‘feels good’ as he returns to North Carolina

Former Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith talks about life in the NBA

Former NC State guard Dennis Smith Jr. talks about the grind of the NBA and how he doesn't believe in hitting the rookie wall.
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Former NC State guard Dennis Smith Jr. talks about the grind of the NBA and how he doesn't believe in hitting the rookie wall.

Maybe it was because he was back in his home state, but Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith, Jr. was feeling good Wednesday before his team took on the Charlotte Hornets.

Scoring 20 points in a a 114-99 win Tuesday over the Orlando Magic also helped, but Smith, the rookie point-guard from Fayetteville and former N.C. State star, would hear no talk of a so-called rookie wall.

“I don’t even know what that is,” he asked with a smirk when the topic was brought up. “I feel good. Maybe it’s because I’m in North Carolina, but I feel good right now.”

Smith (6-3, 195 pounds) has started 34 games for Dallas this season, after slipping to the Mavericks, which selected him as the 9th pick during last summer’s NBA draft. Smith missed the summer league games in Orlando, but suited up in Las Vegas and showed right away that he belonged.

In the six games he played in Las Vegas, Smith averaged 17.3 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, earning him All-Summer League first team honors. In his professional debut, Smith recorded a double-double, scoring 16 points with 10 assists.

Smith and the Mavericks made a return to North Carolina during the preseason, but Wednesday’s trip was his first time back when it counted.

“It’s exciting,” Smith said before the game. “My main thing right now is just getting a win. We won last night, it was a great team effort and we just want to repeat that.”

This season, Smith has repeated what Wolfpack fans got a glimpse of during his time in Raleigh: His ability to score the basketball.

Smith, who said he reserved 21 tickets to Wednesday’s game for friends in family after cutting down the list from 35, is averaging 14 points per game, good enough for sixth among NBA rookies. He has scored in double figures the last seven games, including 20 in the win over the Magic and 15 points in 31 minutes after a 115-111 win over Charlotte. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle trusted Smith in crunch time, and Smith responded by going 4-4 from the line in the final minute of the game. He also added six assists in the game. According to Smith, he lives for that moment.

“I knew I was going to make them,” Smith said. “I was born in the fourth quarter, that’s nothing for me.”

His brief stop at N.C. State was a memorable one. In 32 games he averaged 18.9 points, six assists and two steals. He also had two triple-doubles, making him the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles against league opponents.

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N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. drives to the basket past Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame (5) and Sidy Djitte (50) during the 2017 ACC tournament. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Smith didn’t stop being a stat-sheet stuffer in college. On Dec. 29, he recorded his first NBA triple-double in a 128-120 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Smith scored 21 points, collected 10 rebounds and dished out 10 assists. His career-high game against one of the best teams in the league, the San Antonio Spurs, on Nov. 14, when he scored 27 points, including five made three-pointers.

The biggest adjustment through 34 games in the league for Smith has been playing with older guys.

“Guys who are 30 and 40, who have families,” Smith said. “It’s different. Coming into college you have to lead guys who are juniors and seniors and college and you think they are kind of old in terms of experience, but you get to the NBA it’s different.”

Smith was the leader during his year at N.C. State, where early on, his college coach, Mark Gottfried, said Smith was one of the best guards in the nation and worthy of the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. He fell to the ninth pick, but doesn’t use that as extra motivation.

“No I don’t use that as a chip,” Smith said. “I’m trying to be the best Dennis Smith for the Dallas Mavericks.”

As for his time at N.C. State, Smith said he didn’t accomplishing all he hoped for.

“We didn’t make the tournament so I wasn’t even close.”

And even though he denies hitting a rookie wall, the grind of the NBA has been an adjustment.

“It’s been tough. A lot of ups, a lot of downs, but you have to take everything in stride, keep doing what you know you can do,” Smith said. “If you remain yourself I think that’s the best thing you can do. If you continue to be who you are through the ups and the downs, you’ll be pretty solid throughout your first year.”

Will we hear Dennis Smith, Jr. on a record with rapper, and good friend, J. Cole anytime soon?

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-6501, @JEPopeIV

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