“They always told me I could go back (to school) whenever. So, this is whenever.”
JR Smith may be 35 years old, but that doesn’t mean his athletic dreams are extinguished.
He is primarily pursuing a degree in liberal studies – his classes start on August 18 – but he is waiting for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to work out his eligibility before he applies for the team of one of the nation’s top historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Smith skipped going to college and went straight from high school to the NBA in 2004 but said he began thinking about going to college during a trip to the Dominican Republic with Hall of Famer Ray Allen.
“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 – who is a two-time NBA champion – told WFMY News 2 Sports on Wednesday ahead of the pro-am at the Wyndham Championship.
“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.”
Smith can often be seen among the gallery at PGA Tour events – and he says he plays to a five handicap.
He has petitioned the NCAA to be eligible to play but it is not clear on how long that process will take.
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.”
It does not ban a former professional athlete from competing in a different sport.
Richard Watkins, who coaches both the men’s and women’s teams at the university, said Smith’s arrival is a “big deal.”
“It’s a big deal for A&T. It’s a big deal for him,” Watkins, who was in Smith’s gallery on Wednesday, said. “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.
“Very special. I can’t wait to be part of an HBCU Family.” great to talk with @TheRealJRSmith here at @WyndhamChamp Pro-Am. Smith is enrolling at @ncatsuaggies (went to NBA straight from HS) and hopes to get NCAA Clearance to play on the @NCATAGGIES Golf Team. @WFMY #wfmysports pic.twitter.com/GzWuiVb95Q
— Brian Hall (@bhallwfmy) August 11, 2021
Far from a gimmick, Smith is an extremely accomplished golfer who has been working on his game for years. The former Knicks guard said as early at 2014 that he wanted to play on the PGA Tour one day, so enrolling as a college golfer is just one step towards that dream. It’s also wonderful that he’s committed to finishing his education at a school like NC A&T, regarded as one of the best HBCUs in the country.
It would be easy for Smith to coast for the rest of his life on his NBA earnings and accomplishments, but he’s challenging himself in a new way. Smith credits Ray Allen with pushing him to enroll, saying the pair were playing golf and talking about their lives after basketball. J.R. also said he has “deep roots” in North Carolina, largely because of Chris Paul. Smith and Paul are extremely close, with Paul being godfather to Smith’s children, and CP3 grew up in nearby Winston Salem, so he has intimate knowledge of the area.
All this hits especially close to home for me. I lived in Greensboro for almost 20 years, and have family still in the area. Now, I know I’m pitching this to an EXTREMELY narrow audience of specifically J.R. Smith and nobody else, but I don’t care — I want to give him some Greensboro tips.
NBA champ J.R. Smith headed back to school with sights set on joining golf team
Smith, a 5 handicap, 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, North Carolina A&T State University’s men’s and women’s golf coach, is looking forward to potentially coaching Smith.
“It’s a big deal for A&T. It’s a big deal for him,” Watkins said to PGATour.com. “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.”
Some might look forward to downtime after their playing days, but Smith is ready for his new journey as a student-athlete-parent with his family of five joining him in Greensboro, North Carolina, as he starts classes on Aug. 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.”