Terkavion Smith’s scary injury adds to the rivalry’s prospects


It was the moment every athlete fears: one of his own, unable to leave of his own accord. Paramedics arrive with a stretcher. The arena, filled with energy and noise a few minutes ago, turned into silence.

That was the scene Saturday midway through the second half between North Carolina and North Carolina State. Suddenly the number didn’t matter. The circumstances of the game did not matter. All that mattered was Terkavion Smith, apprentice guard of the Wolfpack.

He would took a hard fall after breaking away. Leakey Black, a senior forward for the Tar Heels, tried to protect him, but in the process his hand came down on Smith’s face and neck, and Smith fell to the floor unable to brace himself.

He lay down for several minutes, able to move his legs, but unable to stand. Paramedics soon arrived with a board to lift him onto a stretcher, and soon the stretchers themselves arrived from the Smith Center tunnel. A crowd of about 20,000 sat in silence.

A fierce rivalry stopped. NC State players gathered around Smith as paramedics tended to him. UNC watched from its bench. The moment opened a perspective. Athletes like Smith often make their craft look easy; they make the unnatural—flying through the air, toward a dunk, or laying down—seem natural somehow. Now the most unnatural spectacle of all unfolded.

“He takes a lot of those shots,” North Carolina guard Casey Morsell said of Smith, whose lithe body often allows him, usually with great success, to find space among defenders. “It was surprising that he didn’t stand up for it. But he’s strong, man.”

Smith’s teammates knew nothing of his condition in the moments after the game, an 80-69 UNC win. They just knew what everyone else knew: that one of them had been hurt and that each of them could be embarrassed to go through something so horrible.

It’s not something they often think about. Now these thoughts have become inevitable.

“We all love sports,” UNC forward Pete Nance said. “But it’s kind of a brutal side of the sport. Obviously it’s a super competitive game, but when something like this happens, you just can’t help but feel really, really bad for him. …

“It’s hard to see. It’s hard to see because we’ve put so much time and effort into this game.”

And then there was the game, the offer of betrayal. Paramedics placed Smith on a backboard and lifted him onto a stretcher. They pulled his neck. Someone covered his head with a towel. Smith suffered elbow and neck injuries, the severity of which was unknown after the game.

The crowd here gave Smith a standing ovation as the paramedics took him off the court. Mother followed her, keeping up with the medics.

“I’m his mother,” she told them as they hurried toward the ambulance.

Afterward, Kevin Keatts, NC State’s coach, said he had no update.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Terkavion,” he said.

When Hubert Davis, UNC’s coach, met with reporters, the first question he got was about the game. He initially dismissed it so he could talk about Smith, whom he described as “an incredible kid and an incredible player.”

“He’s a fantastic player and I just wanted to talk about him,” Davis said. “And just so you know I just didn’t like seeing that.”

By then Smith was in the hospital, and Keats was going to visit him there.

This story was originally published January 21, 2023 9:48 p.m.

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Andrew Carter spent 10 years covering major college athletics, six of them covering the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. He is now a member of The N&O’s and Observer’s nationwide enterprise and investigative panel. He attended NC State and grew up in Raleigh dreaming of becoming a journalist.

Terkavion Smith’s scary injury adds to the rivalry’s prospects

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