Seventeen years after graduating high school, former NBA player JR Smith is enrolling at North Carolina A&T, and hopes to join the golf team while he’s there.
The 35-year-old Smith never attended college after graduating from St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in New Jersey. He committed to North Carolina before he was drafted 18th overall by the New Orleans Hornets in 2004.
Now, after completing an NBA career in which he averaged 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game and won two titles — in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers and 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers, Smith is looking for the college experience.
“Ray Allen kind of convinced me,” Smith said, in a video tweeted by WFMY’s Brian Hall, before teeing off at Wednesday’s pro-am at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. “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 PGATour.com, Smith, who plays to a 5 handicap, starts classes Aug. 18 and is waiting on the NCAA to sort out his eligibility.
"We're just going through the normal process we would go through with any prospective student-athlete," North Carolina A&T athletics spokesman Holloway told ESPN. "But this one is just a little different."
Per 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." But Smith is petitioning the NCAA to play a sport he never competed in professionally. Athletes typically get five years to complete four years of eligibility.
“It's a big deal for A&T. It's a big deal for him,” NC A&T coach Richard Watkins said, according 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.
“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.”