CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Terquavion Smith was just another face in the crowd at the NBA’s predraft combine in Chicago last summer.

Until he dropped 17 points in his first scrimmage.

As the week went on and his performances continued to turn heads, NC State head coach Kevin Keatts was told not to expect his star guard to be back for his sophomore season.

Then Smith shocked everyone and decided to return to the Wolfpack.

Even though he was projected to be a mid-1st-round pick.

It was an announcement that led to speculation that Smith had worked out a lucrative name, image and likeness deal that would make up for some of the money he might have made had he made the jump to the NBA.

Nope, he said. Finances had nothing to do with it.

“It’s just the environment of NC State and Raleigh. The love for college basketball,” the life-long Wolfpack fan said at the time. “You only get that once. I feel like I stayed because I’m big on loyalty. They recruited me at the age of 15. They never switched on me or never lied to me about what I could do at NC State.”

Smith’s throwback reasoning was admirable and was roundly applauded by those on social media who more often than not have greater concern for the best interests of their favorite teams rather than those of the athletes who play for them.

That’s not to say that Smith couldn’t benefit from another season in college, especially since it would give his slender body more time to mature and fill out.

But there was also some risk involved. And Saturday, the worst-case scenario nearly happened midway through the 2nd half of State’s 80-69 loss at North Carolina.

Smith was sent crashing to the floor by a hard foul from the Tar Heels’ Leaky Black as he drove to the rim for a layup.

Even though the sound of the impact could be heard above the roar of the 21,000-plus fans in attendance, teammate Casey Morsell wasn’t concerned at first. He’s seen it before. Smith has never let a little contact prevent him from attacking the rim.

“He takes a lot of those types of hits,” Morsell said. “It was surprising that he didn’t get up from this one.”

The crowd went deathly silent as the Wolfpack star lay on the floor, his legs quivering in pain, as medical personnel worked for nearly 10 minutes to stabilize him.

He was eventually put onto a backboard and taken from the floor on a stretcher. He was transported to UNC Hospitals with elbow and neck injuries.

“There were a lot of aspects of his body that were affected,” Morsell said.

Morsell and the other members of the Wolfpack huddled amongst themselves as Smith was being worked on. Both they and players from the Tar Heels provided the injured star with words of encouragement.

Among them was an apologetic Black who, according to his head coach, Hubert Davis, asked for Smith’s phone number so he could check on him after the game.

“It hurt us,” said Wolfpack guard Jarkel Joiner. “He’s our brother, and we love him. He smiles a lot and brings (happiness) to the locker room because he’s just a great kid.”

While UNC would likely have won the game anyway, the frightening scene clearly had an effect on State’s team during the final 9 1/2 minutes.

Smith, who had 12 points when he was injured, came into the game leading the ACC in scoring at 19.1 points per contest. He was also tops in 3-point baskets and ranked among the league’s top 4 in steals and assists.

The 6-4 Farmville, North Carolina, native is a major reason the Wolfpack (15-5, 5-4 ACC) have already topped their win total from last season.

While State entered Saturday’s game flush with the momentum of a 4-game winning streak and high hopes for its 1st NCAA Tournament bid since 2018, it returned home from Chapel Hill with serious questions about its continued success.

The team was already down 2 starters with big man Dusan Mahorcic and power forward Jack Clark both out with injuries. There are only so many next men up to go around. Especially if 1 of them will be asked to replace the team’s best player.

It’s a concern Keatts may have to address. But in the immediate aftermath of the game, the visibly emotional coach wasn’t thinking about how his team would carry on if Smith isn’t available.

“Obviously, the game is very important. I thought our guys fought,” he said. “But my prayers and my thoughts always go to my players in these types of moments.”

Keatts said he takes his role as a father figure to his players seriously and that “all these kids are my kids” regardless of their scholarship status, playing time or pro prospects.

Thankfully, it appears as though Smith’s situation isn’t as serious as it looked.

A statement issued on State’s official Twitter account Sunday morning reports that the use of a backboard and stretcher were precautionary because neck pain was reported. X-rays taken at the hospital were negative and Smith was released. His playing status is listed as “day-to-day.”

The Wolfpack’s next game is scheduled for Tuesday against Notre Dame in Raleigh.

Good news aside, the fact remains that Smith’s soaring draft stock could have been adversely impacted had his injuries been more serious and forced him to the sideline for a prolonged period. An extended absence might have interfered with his predraft preparations and raised questions about the durability of his slender body over a grueling 82-game season.

Smith’s loyalty to the old alma mater, as admirable as it is, nearly cost him.

Something to keep in mind in the future before going on social media and calling a kid selfish for thinking about his career and staying in the draft instead of returning for another season in college.