Touted freshman Smith ready for Friday debut with Wolfpack
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. has heard all the people expecting brilliance from him before he's even played a game at North Carolina State – even from his own coach.
The touted freshman point guard isn't afraid of those high expectations entering his regular-season debut Friday night against Georgia Southern, though he won't dwell on them, either.
''I've got to tune it out,'' Smith said. ''If I just embrace all the good and no negative, then my ego will get too big. If I embrace all the negative with no good, then I'll get down on myself. I just take everything in stride, don't pay too much attention to it and just remain humble with everything I do.''
The 6-foot-3 instate five-star recruit from Fayetteville and possible one-and-done NBA prospect enrolled in January as he rehabilitated a serious knee injury , then spent the summer pushing to be fully recovered from that torn left anterior cruciate ligament suffered in August 2015.
Smith looked sharp in two exhibition games, including 24 points and six steals against Barton on Monday.
Sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried hasn't tried to lower expectations. During the team's preseason media day, he said he believes Smith is the best guard in the country and could be the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick with a great year.
''I think Dennis can handle it but I also believe in it and he knows I believe that,'' Gottfried said this week. ''He and I have talked about that many times. I think with Dennis, he's the kind of player that likes the challenge, he thrives on that. He wants to live up to that, whether I've said it or not. He wants to be that guy.''
Smith headlines a top-10 recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven , who will sit the first nine regular-season games following an NCAA review of his amateur eligibility status. That class along with some veteran returnees has the Wolfpack picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and positioned to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing the postseason last year for the first time under Gottfried.
Smith was the preseason pick for league rookie of the year as well as the all-ACC first team.
Smith was asked at last month's ACC media day in Charlotte how he'd handle critics saying he had a bad game anytime he didn't put up huge numbers.
''I don't worry about that and I'm going to tell you why,'' Smith said. ''That doesn't matter to me because I believe if you would say something like that, then you can't know too much about basketball. You've got to be just like a Twitter guy that just wants a reaction.''
Still, Smith knows those people are out there.
''See, that's the thing,'' he said. ''I'm not focused on living up to none of their expectations. I just want to win games.''
Teammate Abdul-Malik Abu is sold on Smith's approach. He's taken to calling him by a nickname sure only to boost expectations even more.
''I'm not going to say he's going to go out there and be perfect,'' Abu said. ''Nah, not looking for perfect. As a team and a family, we're looking to be successful. We're looking to win.
''I call him `The Chosen One' because that's what I think he is. He has to show it to you guys, but he proved it to me a long time ago.''
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