It’s been a tough season for the Dallas Mavericks, currently 18-40 with the second-worst record in the Western Conference. However, the strong play of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has been an enormous bright spot. Smith Jr. will be a big presence at this weekend’s All-Star festivities, competing in the Rising Stars game and the Slam Dunk Contest. Mtn Dew Kickstart is the new presenting sponsor of the Rising Stars game, and they are partnering with up and coming players like Dennis to evolve Rising Stars into a yearlong program. Smith Jr. spoke with The Step Back’s Paul Centopani this week about his rookie season and what he has planned for this weekend.
Paul Centopani: First off, just wanted to say congratulations on making the Rising Stars team and getting selected for the slam dunk contest.
Dennis Smith Jr.: Appreciate that.
PC: Without giving away any secrets, do you have anything special you might wanna break out on Saturday?
DSJ: I’m coming with that bounce, man. I’m gonna come with that swag.
PC: Do you have a favorite dunk contest performance?
DSJ: The dunk contest from two years ago with Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, that was special. I’ll pick that one.
PC: That one was really special. I think I’d go back to 2000 Vince, but that’s just me. I’m a little older than you too.
DSJ: That was incredible. The thing was, I didn’t get to see that live, I was what, three-years-old when it happened.
PC: Your coach, Rick Carlisle, he’s notorious for not playing rookies. Have you done anything to get in his good graces?
DSJ: Just work hard…work hard every day and earn the respect of my teammates and I think that put me in the position to earn minutes with coach Carlisle.
PC: Are you friends with anyone from your draft class?
DSJ: Most of the guys. We’ve known each other since high school so I would say everybody’s pretty cordial.
PC: Do you have any idea what’s going on with Markelle Fultz? Is his shoulder okay?
DSJ: He’s gonna be good man, he’s gonna be good. He’s like a little bro. He’s really talented, strong mind, strong will. And you know he came up with no name, so there’s nothing but motivation for him, so I know he’s gonna bounce back strong for sure. He’s gonna earn his keep in this league.
PC: Going back to the draft, there was a lot of speculation about where you could end up and it shaking out a ton of different ways. Now, I think you landed in the perfect situation in Dallas, great coach, great organization and all. But does getting selected ninth motivate you?
DSJ: Getting selected period anywhere motivates me because that’s getting your foot in the door. But that shows you that you have work to do, but you have some people who believe in you so that should add some gas to the tank.
PC: Who were your favorite players growing up? Was there anyone you tried to model your game after?
DSJ: I would say A.I., Baron Davis, so many point guards I watched, I liked Monta a lot. Chris Paul, Billups, Arenas, Devin Harris…there were a lot of point guards I watched growing up.
PC: That must have been really cool getting to play with Devin then too.
DSJ: Oh yeah. That was great, that was great
PC: Yeah I was always into power forwards. Charles Oakley, Charles Barley, those were my dudes. Larry Johnson. It didn’t work out for me, I’m only 5-foot-9, but that’s who I modeled my game after. So walk me through your typical pregame routine. What do you do to get ready?
DSJ: I arrive at the building…well prior to that I gotta get a nap in. But once I get to the building I get on the training table, get my body worked on, I need to work on the muscles in my legs, make sure they’re ready. And then just listen to music. I go to chapel before every game whenever I can make it. But music and training table, that’s definitely consistent in my pregame routine.
PC: What are you listening to?
DSJ: A lot of R&B.
PC: Anyone in particular?
DSJ: I’ve got a playlist. I’ll tell you a couple names on there right now; Monica, Maxwell, Brandi, Anthony Hamilton, R Kelly, Trey Songz, Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys, Jon B., Jodeci, Silk.
PC: So you’re even going back a little bit, I like that.
DSJ: Yeah for sure, for sure. I’ve got a lot of females in my family. A lot of aunts, older cousins, older sisters, so I’m hip to the whole R&B scene.
PC: Are there any steps you’re taking to avoid the rookie wall?
DSJ: Nah, everybody kept telling me about that, but I ain’t seen one.
PC: Dirk, I’m a big fan of his, has he given you any wise-old-man advice?
DSJ: He’s not so much of a talker, that’s the thing with Dirk. He’s more of a lead by example. He’s gonna come in, put his work in every single day. Like even today on an off day, I’ve seen Dirk in there. He was in there before I was. So he put his work in. That’s the only advice he needs to give me. He works his tail off and now he’s one of the greatest players to ever play this game.
PC: I think my favorite thing about him is how he brings in those foil-wrapped leftover plates before every game. Does he share any of those?
DSJ: Nah, he hasn’t brought them in this year.
PC: In one of your last tweets, you were trying to get a Call of Duty game going on PS3. What’s your playing style? Do you lay back and snipe, do you go around covert knifing guys, or are you more like middle-of-the-action, machine gun, just spraying bullets?
DSJ: I’m all about the force when it comes to Call of Duty, so I’m either running around with a shotgun or I’m out there with a light machine gun. You’re gonna feel one of em.
PC: Yeah me too. I can’t sit back, I’m too impatient. I gotta be in the melee, man. I’m about that action.
DSJ: Yeah, camping out does no good, I get too impatient and I get bored. I don’t wanna play too much if I’m camping.
PC: Alright here’s one of my favorite questions. You get a time machine, what team do you go back and play for?
DSJ: Ooooh that’s a great question. Honestly, if I had a time machine, I would go back and play for…this is a tough decision because I could give you two separate teams.
PC: Okay, I’ll take two answers.
DSJ: I mean, I might have to give you three then. I would say, I think it was 1996 when it was Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. I’d want to play with them. Or Shaq and Kobe, or the last one would be the Heat, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.
PC: What’s your favorite movie?
DSJ: Juice. And Balto
DSJ: Yeah, you never heard of that, huh?
PC: Yeah the one with the dog, the animated one?
DSJ: Yeah he’s part wolf.
PC: Alright. You ever see A Bronx Tale? I think that’s my favorite movie.
DSJ: No, I haven’t seen that. That’s interesting. I like All Dogs Go To Heaven too, I know you’ve seen that.
PC: Oh yeah that’s a good one, man. That’s classic. So I saw you recently received the blessing of Lil B, the Based God himself, and that’s no small feat. Guys can wait their entire career for that. Is this your greatest professional accomplishment so far?
DSJ: Yeah! That’s major. It’s either that one or getting Bojangles to give me something. They actually sent me some of their seasonings, they sent it to my locker room. I mean, it’s a toss-up between those two. They’re both major accomplishments. That’s a toss-up, that’s a tough one.
PC: Alright I think top-2 is pretty good. I didn’t know about the Bojangles thing, that’s cool.
DSJ: Yeah I didn’t even announce it yet.
PC: I’m glad to be in the know. Last question before I let you go. You get one meal, it’s your birthday you get to go anywhere you want, what do you go get?
DSJ: Man, I’m going to Bojangles right down on Ramsey Street, for real.
PC: Next time if you’re ever in New York, you’re playing the Knicks, if you like pizza, go down to the East Village, there’s a place with a roasted garlic pie, it’s out of this world. That’s my birthday meal place.
DSJ: Man, I’ll try it. I like trying new and different foods.
PC: That’s all I’ve got. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. Congrats on getting into the all-star festivities, and best of luck the rest of the way.
DSJ: I appreciate that, thanks for taking the time out.