Dennis Smith Jr. reflects on NC States unfortunate season

Wolfpack freshman is likely headed to the NBA, but came away with a few lessons learned in Raleigh

Brad Penner—USA Today Sports
NC State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) drives against Clemson Tigers forward Elijah Thomas (14) and Clemson Tigers guard Marcquise Reed (2) during the second half of an ACC Conference Tournament game at Barclays Center.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — As much as Tuesday was an unfortunate curtain closing ceremony for Mark Gottfried, it was also likely the series finale for Dennis Smith Jr. after just one season.The Fayetteville native wrapped up his freshman campaign in Brooklyn with seven points, eight rebounds and seven assists in an opening-round loss to Clemson in the ACC Tournament. Though he hasn’t made his decision official, all signs point toward Smith declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft.Smith is a first-round lock and currently slotted as the No. 5 pick by DraftExpress. He’s also the 2017 ACC Freshman of the Year and exits NC State as the only player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in a single season.Despite a second-straight losing season for the Pack after high expectations that resulted in Gottfried ultimately being fired, Smith still took the losses to heart.”On the walk here I internalized it,” Smith explained, referring to his walk from the court to the locker room at the Barclays Center. “It hurts. It’s not the way we wanted to end it, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”Smith didn’t have to take that walk alone, though. Gottfried walked off with his biggest recruit during his tenure, arm wrapped firmly around him.Even in the face of adversity, Smith came away with a valuable lesson for the next level.”It taught me not everything is going to be simple,” Smith said. “… Every year’s not going to be a winning year. That’s what I was used to — winning all the time, regardless of what level. I just learned you have to fight through every loss.”If Smith does go in the top five, it will more than likely be a team that’s in the “rebuilding” phase. Apart from the Boston Celtics — who own the Brooklyn Nets’ (11-51), worst record in NBA) pick — the top 10 picks could belong to teams currently at least 10 games below .500.That’s a lot of losing in your future, my friend. No other way to spin it.So while going 15-17 with a 4-14 mark in the ACC with NC State this season was a tough pill to swallow, Smith exits Raleigh with optimism. After coming to NC State early to rehab from an ACL injury that kept him away from the game for nearly a year, he solidified his spot as one of the best guards in the country.Even with a season he described as “deflating” and “unfortunate,” Smith’s spirit clearly wasn’t broken after the fight he’s had to endure during his time with the Pack.”Basketball will always be fun for me,” Smith said. “I missed the whole year last year, so I just thank God for the opportunity. I’m thankful for good health and I’ll always have fun playing basketball.”