Former NBA sharpshooter JR Smith made news recently on Wednesday when he announced he has enrolled at North Carolina A&T and plans to join the men’s golf team while pursuing a degree in liberal studies.
Smith looks to get cleared by the NCAA and use his eligibility to join the historically Black university after having played 16 seasons in the NBA, winning championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard originally committed to play for Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams and North Carolina before deciding to hire an agent and enter the NBA draft in 2004.
“They always told me I could go back (to school) whenever,” said Smith, who is known to be a 5 handicap.
According to NCAA rules: “An individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team in that sport.”
=The rule does not hold a ban on a former professional athlete from competing in an entirely different sport.
NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen convinced Smith on the idea of going back to school while on a golf trip and it was one that he agreed with.
“Ray Allen kind of convinced me,” Smith said Wednesday at the pro-am at the Wyndham Championship. “We had a little golf trip in [the Dominican Republic] and he was talking about some of the things he was doing, about going back to school and challenging yourself for us athletes. I really took heed to it and decided to go back — and one of the best liberal studies programs is at A&T.”
The 35-year-old has been seen at numerous PGA Tour events throughout his career and said he first started playing golf 12 years ago at the late NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone’s charity event.
“Golf is one of those games that has you feeling really high and or can bring you down to your knees and humble you,” Smith said. “And to have that feeling and knowing that all of the game’s pretty much on my own hands and I don’t have to worry about teammates to pass the ball and receiving passes and playing defense so, I can play my game and just have fun.”
Richard Watkins, coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at North Carolina A&T, said the former NBA standouts arrival is a “big deal.”
“It’s a big deal for A&T. It’s a big deal for him,” said Watkins, who was in Smith’s gallery on Wednesday. “It’s not very often that somebody in his position really has an opportunity to have a thought, a dream, an idea, and to be able to go ahead and move in that direction.”
Smith may also be able to profit off college golf now with college athletes being allowed to profit from their names, images, and likenesses, and he acknowledged just that in a social media tweet.
“He’s a former professional athlete, but (it’s) a unique set of circumstances. He didn’t go to college, never matriculated, the clock never started,” added Watkins.
Smith looks forward to joining an HBCU atmosphere and mentioned there won’t be much down time with his classes starting August 18.
“I’ve got no free time now,” Smith said. “Raising kids and going to school, my schedule will be full. I can’t wait to be a part of the HBCU family.
“I’ve really been embraced by everybody so far on campus. I’m looking forward to start going to football games and repping Aggie Pride.”