WHEN THE NC STATE TAKEN at Purdue in mid-December last season, all eyes were on the Boilermakers. They had just taken first place in the AP Poll, and quarterback Jayden Ivey was in the midst of a sophomore campaign that eventually took him to the top five in the NBA draft.

Ivey did not disappoint that Sunday afternoon, posting 22 points and seven rebounds in an 82-72 overtime win. But it was his North Carolina counterpart that caught the attention of NBA staff.

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Terquavion Smith, a top 100 student averaging 11.0 in his first month of college career, had an outstanding performance, scoring 21 to tie with Ivey and Purdue before losing in overtime.

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“This dude has cohons,” an Eastern Conference scout recalled. “The reason they went to work overtime was because he looked at Jaden Ivey and said, come on. He wasn’t afraid.”

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While Ivey’s trajectory drew headlines for the rest of the 2021-2022 season, Smith’s rise in NBA draft circles was just as impressive. He moved up to the second round of the tryouts after a stellar freshman season and then became a potential first-round pick after an outstanding performance in the NBA draft.

“He’s the next guy with that kind of speed and explosion,” another NBA scout said. “Like Jayden Ivy, Jah [Morant].”

But Smith returned to college basketball and is now predicted to be selected by lottery in the June NBA draft. He is considered the NBA’s top prospect to return to school.

“I’m very happy for him,” said NC State head coach Kevin Kitts. “It was earned, not given. I’m in awe of the guy because he put so much work into it. He has always been an outsider. Twelve points, 14 points. But I would be lying if I told you that I saw the lottery.”

Including the Purdue game, Smith scored 20 or more points in 12 of his last 21 games and hit the 30-point mark twice. He finished his rookie season averaging 16.3 points. He also hit 34 and 20 in two games against North Carolina and 19 against Duke. That’s for North Carolina State, which struggled last season, losing 11 of its last 12 games.

“In all the big games, he was one of the best players on the court,” Kitts said. “He didn’t want to lose. He played hard. He has won three state championships. [in high school]. I thought this guy was fearless.”

Here’s the thing though: Smith didn’t become a household name when this season began. He was one of the top freshmen in the country last season and was a first-round pick in the practice draft last spring.

So his return to North Carolina after a strong performance at the mill came as a surprise to some. Ultimately, the Wolfpack finished last in the ACC for the 2021-22 season, placing 11-21 overall and 4-16 in the ACC.

Smith could have left his name on the draft. He could also transfer and was the most requested player on the portal.

However, the native of Farmville, North Carolina did not like any of this.

“It’s just the environment of North Carolina and Raleigh,” Smith said. “Love for college basketball. This only happens once. I feel like I have something to prove. I feel like I stayed because I am very dedicated. never lied to me about what I could do in North Carolina.”

Despite three high school state championships, Smith did not hire the highly publicized candidate. He devoted himself to Kitts and the Wolf Pack – his first scholarship offer – in his sophomore year. And only the East Carolina Pirates and the High Point Panthers joined the Wolf Pack in recruiting Smith.

Since Smith decided to return to Raleigh, Kitts has seen a few changes in his all-star defense.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore is playing a bigger role this season. Dereon Cibron, who led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists last season, entered the NBA draft last spring, while veteran forward Jericole Hellems, who averaged 13.7 points in 2021-22, graduated.

“He listened to everyone,” Kitts said. “His mentality is a little different. He makes a concerted effort to put in the extra effort. He’s making a concerted effort to put on weight… And he’s also a good player. He got better. in.

“He doesn’t look arrogant,” he added. “I kind of wanted it so I could run into him a little bit. But he didn’t. I don’t have to worry about being cocky. But when he starts to play, he is a court personality. I’ll get on your neck.”

In the first few games of the 2022/23 season, Smith picked up where he left off last season. But his drive to become more of a distributor, someone who can pick and roll more effectively, read the game and make the right decisions, is evident.

He is averaging 19.0 points in four games, opening the season with 26 points from the field against Austin Pea, and leading the team in assists and steals. So far, Smith’s biggest successes have been with his distribution and offensive efficiency. Last season, Smith averaged 2.1 assists and shot 39.8% from the field, and now he has increased the figure to 5.7 assists and 51.2% shots.

But the level of competition in North Carolina State will jump to the level in Battle 4 Atlantis when the Wolfpack takes on Kansas on Wednesday (12:00 pm ET, Sportzshala) and then plays either Dayton or Wisconsin on Thursday.

“He’s got a special talent, man,” said fifth-year quarterback Yarkel Joyner, who has spent the last two seasons at Ole Miss. He can go as far as he wants. We’ll need him this year to play big for us every night. Not just one night, not against certain teams, every night. And he knows it. And he’s going to do it, he’s going to prove why he’s chosen in the lottery.”

Of course, NBA staff have their questions for Smith: shot selection, decision making, and his ideal position at the next level. Can he play point guard, or is he more of a full-blooded earner in the fashion of Collin Sexton and Cam Thomas?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays his role at the lottery level by the end of the season or part-time,” said one Western Conference executive. “He will throw tests and measurements out of the water. He may be the fastest player in college basketball.

However, now Smith does not care. Lottery predictions, first-team All-ACC preseason honors, it’s all noise. He’s just focused on getting better and leading NC State to more wins.

“Things like that, I admit it, but I always have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I always work hard. No matter what I get or what I get from what I do, I will always work hard and keep getting more than I already have. your shoulder.”