NBA star J.R. Smith enrolls at North Carolina A&T, petitions to play golf at HBCU

The 35-year-old two-time NBA champ intends to join the men's golf team if the NCAA clears his eligibility.

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Former pro basketball star J.R. Smith has enrolled in North Carolina A&T State University, and the 35-year-old two-time NBA champion intends to join the men’s golf team at the HBCU if his eligibility is cleared by the NCAA. 

Smith’s “clock to compete as a collegiate athlete” has not been running because he entered the NBA after high school, according to ESPN. Typically, athletes are given five years to complete four years of eligibility. 

This photo from July 2020 shows then-Los Angeles Laker J.R. Smith warming up prior to a game against the L.A. Clippers in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Smith told reporters at a golf event in Greensboro, North Carolina Wednesday that it was Hall of Famer Ray Allen who inspired him to enroll in college. 

“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.”

His friendships with Chris Paul and Paul’s brother C.J. helped J.R. Smith decide on A&T. “That North Carolina connection with Chris and C.J. was there, and then I just had to figure out if I still have eligibility,” he said.

As a star high school athlete, Smith committed to play basketball for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004 but instead went directly to the NBA. NCAA policy says “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 rules do not disallow a former pro athlete from competing in a different sport. 

North Carolina A&T is hopeful that the NCAA eligibility is granted. The school’s golf coach Richard Watkins said adding Smith to his team would be “a big deal for A&T.” 

“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 said. “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.”

J.R. Smith retired from the NBA after 16 years. During his career, he played for five NBA teams and one with the Chinese Basketball Association. 

To be eligible to compete for NC A&T this school year, Smith must start classes on Aug. 18, and he must pass the NCAA clearinghouse to become an official member of the golf team. 

J.R. Smith started playing golf 12 years ago. He said late NBA great Moses Malone introduced him to the game, and he has consistently improved since.

“It’s been a journey,” he told The Winston-Salem Journal.

“It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been in school,” said the new liberal studies major. “I’m excited about these new challenges, and I’ll have to really buckle down. I’ve got no free time now with raising kids and going to school so I’ll be busy.”

He is a father of three: Demi, Dakota and Peyton. 

“I can’t wait to be a part of the HBCU family,” Smith said, “and to really be embraced by everybody on campus already has been great.”

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