Throughout the summer, USA TODAY High School Sports has published a series called “60 for ’16” highlighting 60 members of the Class of 2016 who we will be watching in the coming 12 months. The final 20 athletes will be presented in order from No. 20 to No. 1 over four weeks. The athletes were selected by the USA TODAY HSS staff.
Name: Dennis Smith Jr.
School: Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Sport: Boys Basketball
Position: Point Guard
Try as you might, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who follows elite high school basketball players to believe that this time two years ago Dennis Smith Jr. was an unranked point guard trying to figure out a way to parlay a vicious poster dunk, which was featured on the Sportscenter Top 10, into scholarship offers.
A stark contrast from who he is today: The No. 1 point guard and No. 4 overall player in the ESPN 100 with more than 125,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram who gets held up after most games by the long line of fans wanting to snap a pic with him.
“It honestly still trips me out,” Smith said. “I just play; I don’t get caught up in everything else.”
Smith turned heads nationally in late December 2013 at the High School OT Holiday Invitational (Raleigh, N.C.). There he averaged 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds against elite players like Hammond’s (Columbia, S.C.) Seventh Woods, Justin Jackson, now a rising sophomore at North Carolina, and Orangeville Prep (Can.) center Thon Maker, who, at the time, was the No. 1 player in Smith’s class.
Smith won a state title as a sophomore, dominated as a junior and finished what was likely his most dominant summer on the AAU circuit with Team Loaded (N.C.) last month.
No, player turned in more consistent “wow” plays than Smith against, arguably, the stiffest competition of any AAU circuit. He capped off his dominant summer winning MVP of the Big Shots Tournament, claiming the 1-on-1 title at the Steph Curry Elite Camp and winning MVP of the adidas Uprising Showcase.
“I just try and come out and make my teammates better and dominate in every aspect of the game,” Smith said. “I like playing against the best players; I feel like that makes me take my game to another level.”
He recently cut his list of colleges to six: Kentucky, Duke, Louisville, N.C. State, Wake Forest and North Carolina, and, no matter where he ends up, you can expect that school’s backcourt to receive an immediate upgrade no matter who’s already there.
“I’ve got a lot of great schools and a lot of great coaches on my list,” Smith said. “I just want to go somewhere that I can win, learn and get better constantly.”
From no-name player to probable one-and-done in college?
Mission accomplished on the latter.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY