Former NBA star JR Smith is trading in his sneakers for a pair of spikes after being cleared by the NCAA to play golf for North Carolina A&T State University. The 16-year NBA veteran skipped college to pursue his professional basketball dreams, winning two world championships during his career.
“It was probably one of the most exciting feelings I’ve had in a while, and I really didn’t know how it was gonna go. I hear so much about the NCAA all the time, but to be able to actually call myself a student-athlete is a great feeling.” Smith, 35, told The Undefeated.
Smith was already enrolled at the school and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. The liberal studies curriculum at North Carolina A&T is rated second among the top ten HBCU programs. Excited about the start of his college experience, Smith has been tweeting the last two days about an approaching assignment deadline: his first-ever Powerpoint presentation for an English class on his five- to ten-year career goals.
“For me, because I have a wild imagination, it’s going to be very interesting,” Smith said. “I don’t know if the professor is prepared for that, and I’m obviously not the average freshman. So I don’t know how I’m going to do.”
In 2004, Smith was expected to join Roy Williams’ North Carolina team but instead chose to go directly to the NBA, becoming a first-round lottery selection. Upon retiring last year, He played for five NBA teams and scored over 12,000 points in the regular season. Smith won championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, both with LeBron James.
Smith’s choice to attend college was heavily influenced by a discussion with former NBA player Ray Allen.
“I was asking him what does he do all day with being retired and stuff like that. He said the challenge for him is to go back and challenge his mind, challenge his courage if he can actually do it and maintain it. And he’s actually working with his master’s now. So, it was very inspirational,” Smith said.
Smith has often played in Greensboro and has impressed his teammates, who believe he can improve the Aggies’ golf team. During the Wyndham Pro-Am, Christyn Carr, an Aggies women’s golf team member, saw Smith and recognized his abilities.
“He’s such a really, really down-to-earth person, very humble, and he loves golf. He already has so much discipline from playing in the NBA. So, I think that’ll be able to help us all just to see how hard he works and to be able to push us,” said Christyn Carr, a senior nursing student at North Carolina A&T.
The first competition for the Aggies men’s golf team will be the Black College Golf Coaches Association Invitational in Newnan, Georgia, Sept. 24-25, followed by three other fall tournaments.