Dennis Smith: Junior Primer

Dennis Smith opened his prep career to auspicious reviews, and over the past two-plus years he has expanded his sphere of admirers and now tracks as one of the country’s most dynamic junior prospects.

How he got here

When Dennis Smith arrived at the final Carolina Challenge back in 2013, he brought with him a blossoming reputation. Already a highly prominent point guard at Fayetteville (N.C.) Trinity Christian, Smith nevertheless performed unevenly that day and generally was regarded as a fringe high-major talent.

But that changed dramatically as the year progressed. Smith toured with the Karolina Diamonds and impressed at events such as the Knoxvegas Heat Invitational. He seized my attention emphatically at the Prep Phenom 150 that fall, illustrating once and for all that the “fringe” stuff was utterly ludicrous. He was a top tier talent all the way.

Smith loves to attack and finish along the baseline

Smith noted then that VCU was recruiting him hardest, with in-state programs such as Duke, North Carolina and NC State also expressing early interest.

His true breakthrough took place at the 2013 HSOT Invitational, where Smith waged battle against former Diamonds teammate Seventh Woods (who was higher ranked at the time) and others. Smith performed in scintillating fashion and earned widespread attention from fans who were able to watch his exploits on highlight reels following the tournament’s conclusion.

By last spring, he suited up with Team Loaded NC on the Adidas circuit and cemented himself as an elite. He also attended the NBPA Top 100 Camp in June and continued to thrive with Loaded, which won its division while compiling a 13-3 regular season record.

Smith proved to be by far the club’s most talented prospect. He averaged 19 points on an efficient 51 percent from the floor — a truly impressive number for a point guard — to accompany six assists, five rebounds and three steals per game. His ability to impact a game in multiple capacities earned him a spot in our national top 10, and he presently ranks No. 7 in the class.

His recruitment naturally took off as well. Smith holds offers from all the N.C. Triangle programs as well as Kansas and other national schools.

To 2015. …

Smith appears to have grown into a legitimate 6-2 point guard, and if anything he might hit 6-3 before he’s finished. He also has begun to fill out and projects to have good size and strength for the college level and beyond.

To fully embrace his stature as a potential star and long-term professional, we’re hoping Smith will become more consistent with his intensity and aggression. He tends to flip the switch a little too much at present, with the knowledge that he can take over on a moment’s notice. That’s a common trait for elite high school prospects, but of course as he moves up in competition he’ll have to bring the heat from play to play.

Meanwhile, though he does possess good shooting touch, his three-point shot features something of a push and could use a snappier follow-through. He has time to tweak his mechanics, however, and at this juncture he’s actually best when he doesn’t rely too heavily on jumpers.

At his best, Smith arguably is the best point guard finisher in the Class of 2016. He doesn’t possess the explosiveness of Woods or the speed of Kobi Simmons, but he can make plays in midair that no one else can match. He creates numerous and-one attempts because he forces shotblockers to commit to a specific angle, which Smith then alters to draw contact and get a soft shot onto the rim.

He’s among the three frontrunners for the distinction of No. 1 point guard. Smith, Simmons and Derryck Thornton all have proved to be worthy candidates, and obviously we’ll chronicle the ins and outs of the competition during the course of the spring and summer.

It goes without saying that Smith projects as a long-time hoopster no matter how that hierarchy ultimately settles, and during what could be a one-year stay in college, he could become an immediate impact player at the major program of his choice.

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