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Zagoria: Dennis Smith Jr. will declare for NBA Draft after NC State career comes to a close

North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) drives during the first half of the 2017 New York Life ACC Tournament first round game between the Clemson Tigers and the North Carolina State Wolfpack on March 7, 2017, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn,NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

NEW YORK — Wearing a gray sweatsuit and a black hoodie pulled over his head, Dennis Smith Jr. sat in the corner of the N.C. State locker room at Barclays Center.

His college career had just come to an end via a 75-61 loss to Clemson in the first round of the ACC Tournament, a game in which Smith Jr. had just two points at the half and finished with seven points on 3-for-12 shooting. He added eight rebounds and three assists.

A projected top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Smith Jr. will declare for the draft, “There’s no question,” an N.C. State source told FanRagSports.com.

DraftExpress.com currently has the 6-foot-3 freshman projected at No. 5 to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Smith Jr.’s official position is that he has yet to make up his mind on his future.

“I’m not sure right now,” he said. “Right now I’m focused on finishing up this semester strong and I look forward to making the decision after that.”

Smith Jr., who averaged 18.5 points and 6.3 assists, says he hasn’t checked out any mock drafts.

“No, I ain’t got no social media, I don’t look at any of that stuff,” he said.

The loss not only marked the end of Smith Jr.’s college career, but of the Mark Gottfried Era at N.C. State. The school announced on Feb. 16 that Gottfried would not return next season.

N.C. State finished 15-17 in Gottfried’s sixth season, his second straight losing campaign. Gottfried went 123-86 with four NCAA Tournament appearances and two Sweet 16s during his tenure.

“Unfortunate,” Smith Jr. said of the year. “I had high hopes coming into the year, everybody had high hopes and the fans believed in us and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”

After the game, Gottfried put his arm around Smith Jr., and told him to “Keep your head up.”

“He was just saying stay positive and never be defeated,” Smith Jr. said.

Smith Jr. said he thought his team could rally and make a run to the ACC final despite losing nine of their final 10 regular-season games.

“Of course I believed that we would play Saturday,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we lost tonight but I mean it’s bigger than basketball. We built relationships on the team that will last a lifetime.”

Smith Jr. is considered among the top floor generals in a point guard-heavy draft that also includes Washington’s Markelle Fultz, the presumed No. 1 pick, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, now at No. 2 on DraftExpress.com, and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, a projected top-10 pick.

“He’s probably overall the third-best guard in the draft behind Ball and Fultz,” one NBA executive told FanRagSports.com. “He’s an NBA athlete that can defend and is extremely dangerous in the open floor. He needs to become a more consistent shooter and develop a three-point shot. He is more of a scoring guard than a true point guard. Right now he is projected to go between 4-8.”

All 30 NBA teams are here in Brooklyn this week but Smith Jr.’s performance on Tuesday did not impress.

“He just showed more of the same,” said Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com. “All the things that people were worried about coming into this game, we saw them again. Lack of intensity on defense, careless turnovers, the inconsistent jump shot.

“You would hope that his urgency level would be much higher with his season on the line but it wasn’t.”

Still, N.C. State assistant Orlando Early believes Smith Jr. has a bright future in the NBA.

“I think his basketball future is ahead of him,” Early told FanRagSports.com. “People forget that he sat out his senior year of high school and didn’t play [with an ACL tear], so he enrolled in January [2016] and couldn’t work out with us. And this year he was going against teams that are prepared to stop him and game-planning to stop him, he had never seen that. So it was a big adjustment for him, but still he had a great year.”

As for what he’ll bring to an NBA franchise, Early said, “I think his competitive spirit, his mental toughness, he brings that. He’s still going to learn. He’s got a lot to learn just like every guy in the draft but right off the bat his competitiveness and his ability to score the ball is going to help whoever is in position to draft him.”

 

Adam Zagoria is a basketball insider who has run ZAGSBLOG.com since 2006. He is a college basketball contributor for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the co-host of The Four Quarters Podcast via VSporto.com, which is available via iTunes. Zagoria is also a contributor to The New York Times. He currently lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.

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