A torn ACL typically means an athlete must shut things down. Dennis Smith Jr. is using misfortune as a means to improve himself.
Almost six months after Smith had surgery to repair his left knee, he is now a freshman at NC State -- mingling both with his new teammates and classmates while finding his way around campus to class as he continues to rehab in preparation for the 2016-17 season.
That has not stopped Smith from also focusing on the current squad. He thinks NC State has something to say over the next three months and the victory at Pittsburgh on Tuesday is just a start.
“We have got the potential,” Smith said. “Pitt was, I think, 20th in the country and we went up there and blew them out so we have got the potential to play with anybody in the country. It just depends on if we sustain our level of play for two halves.”
One of the top high school point guards in the nation prior to his injury, Smith now is on the bench watching what he believes to be one of the best college point guards in Cat Barber.
Smith currently rooms with Barber and freshman Maverick Rowan. He is also utilizing the time with the point guard he playfully calls “Ant” or “Tony” to gauge what it takes to excel on the college level ahead of his debut next season.
“We are two different type of point guards,” Smith said of the ACC’s leading scorer. “We talk a lot. I see his point of view on certain things. We watch film together and things like that. He has been remarkable this year. He is a great talent... one of the best guards in the country.”
Despite joining his teammates just this month, there was a relationship established prior to this season. That helped Smith find his footing and he is not afraid to lead even in his current capacity as an observer.
“I was comfortable right away,” Smith said of joining the Wolfpack. “I came up here about four times during the summer and played with the guys so I wasn’t really hesitant at all.”
“It is great,” Smith added. “It is more about being in the locker room and sitting with the guys on the bench. As a recruit I could sit right behind them, but I get to go in the locker room and interact with the guys at halftime and after the game so that is a great experience for me.”
Sitting and watching is not the easiest thing to do. Transfer Torin Dorn Jr. and injured guard Terry Henderson join Smith on the bench, which leaves NC State fans filled with excitement when contemplating the trio on the court together next season.
That will have to wait, which is the hardest part. In the meantime, Smith hopes to steadily improve and learn while being patient. A point guard is a leader, whether he is on the court or in street clothes, and Smith will provide that as well.
"I am definitely excited for next year,” Smith said. “I wish I could play right away. I am sure Terry is the same way and Torin is the same way. We are all competitors. We are going to sit out and wait until it's our time.
“I have got a winner’s mentality. I want to come in and win. I want everybody to play to their full potential. If I see something wrong, I will tell them and they will do the same thing with me. I am taking this whole year off. We are not even considering that. It is not even in consideration. I have got to come in and lead the guys next year so that is what I am looking forward to doing.”