Winning two NBA championships is the dream accomplishment for most professional basketball players; however, J.R. Smith plans to take his athletic skills off the court.
After 16 seasons, Smith closed out his career with the Los Angeles Lakers winning the Larry O’Brian Trophy in 2020. Recently, the former pro baller enrolled at the North Carolina A&T University and hopes to play collegiate golf at the southern HBCU (Historically Black College or University). According to ESPN, the 35-year-old was inspired by Ray Allen to make the move. He revealed the news during the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C.
“Ray Allen kind of convinced me,” said Smith. “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.”
According to NCAT athletics spokesman Brian Holloway, Smith who is officially an Aggie, has petitioned the NCAA to be eligible to play golf. NCAA rules state that “an individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team in that sport.” However, they do not apply for athletes hoping to play a different sport than that of their professional career. Being drafted to the NBA straight from high school in 2004, the former Cleveland Cavelier may have a full term of eligibility.
“We’re just going through the normal process we would go through with any prospective student-athlete,” said Holloway. “But this one is just a little different.”
North Carolina A&T golf coach Richard Watkins shared with ESPN that having Smith on the team would be “a big deal for A&T.”
He continued, “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.” Watkins added, “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.”
The 2012–2013 NBA Man of the Year award is one of a handful of high-profile figures to choose a student-athlete program at an HBCU. Master P’s son Hercy Miller, plans to attend Tennessee State University to play basketball. Miller also reportedly signed a $2 million NIL deal with an emerging tech company. The NCAA changing rules allowing college athletes to generate revenue off their image could be a major factor for Smith and NCAT if he is approved to play.
With a 188-acres campus, North Carolina A&T had an enrollment size of 12,753 students for the 2020–2021 academic school year. The NCAT men’s golf team finished second at the MEAC championships this April, behind the 2021 conference champion Florida A&M (FAMU) Rattlers.