Next stop, Dreamville.
N.C. State guard Dennis Smith Jr. announced Tuesday he will enter the NBA draft on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Smith called it his dream to play in the NBA.
A projected top 10 pick, Smith led the ACC in assists (6.2 per game) in his lone college season. He was N.C. State’s first ACC freshman of the year since 1977.
Smith, who is from Fayetteville, would be N.C. State’s first top 10 pick since forward Tom Gugliotta went No. 6 to the Washington Bullets in 1992 and 10th overall.
Smith, wearing a gray hat with his own “Jr.” logo, called the timing perfect on Tuesday to pursue his NBA dreams.
“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”
The 6-3 point guard is the second “one-and-done” player the Wolfpack has had since the NBA changed its draft rule in 2006 to prevent high school players from going directly to the NBA. Forward J.J. Hickson was the No. 19 pick in the 2008 draft.
Production and big moments weren’t a problem for Smith, who is considered to be one of the top guards in a guard-heavy draft. Despite missing his senior year of high school with a major knee injury, Smith led the Wolfpack in scoring (18.1 points per game), 4.6 rebounds per game and 1.9 steals per game (second-best in the ACC).
He is the first player in ACC history to have two triple-doubles in conference play (against Virginia Tech and Syracuse). He also scored a season-best 32 points to lead N.C. State to its first win at Duke since 1995.
But consistency and maturity were issues for Smith. He had lulls to match his highs and there were games where he wasn’t aggressive enough. N.C. State finished 4-14 in the ACC (and 15-17 overall) and Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried lost his job.
“My biggest challenge was stay positive,” Smith said. “That’s not always easy to do, especially whenever you’re losing. You can learn from everything. Everybody learned something from last year: me, the rest of my teammates, as well as the coaching staff. We are all thankful for each other.”
Smith, a five-star recruit from Fayetteville’s Trinity Christian, enrolled at N.C. State in Jan. 2016. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the summer of 2015 and missed his senior season at Trinity Christian.
He enrolled early at N.C. State to rehab the injury and get ready for the 2016-17 season. Smith said getting to N.C. State early helped him get ahead academically.
“If I want to come back and finish, which I plan on doing, then I’ll be ahead of most guys that are leaving after one year,” Smith said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio