Two-time NBA champion J.R. Smith is a freshman walk-on for the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University men’s golf team in Greensboro, North Carolina. The NCAA ruled Smith as an eligible student-athlete Aug. 24 after speaking about his desire to be a part of the university’s golf program.
“It’s going to be fun.'' Smith said. “Obviously different environments from playing in front of 20,000 people to playing in a college golf gallery. But it's still as nerve-racking as shooting a free throw in front of 5,000 instead of making a 5-foot putt in front of three. So it all correlates the same for me.”
After skipping college to go straight into the 2004 NBA Draft, the 16-year veteran will pursue a degree studying liberal studies.
“It’s not even a week yet but as I get into it, I keep getting eager to learn more, and join study groups and to understand and try to really embrace the lifestyle,” Smith said. “Because if I’m going to give it a shot, that’s the only way it's going to work.”
Smith said he was drawn to North Carolina A&T because of his interest in attending a historically Black college, after a push from the NBA and its players to embrace HBCU traditions and culture throughout the league.
The NBA champion is returning to the state where he was originally expected to play college basketball, according to USA Today. He was set to join the rich-tradition of North Carolina under head coach Roy Williams in 2004. Instead, he jumped straight to the NBA, taking the 18th pick in the draft lottery. Smith made more than 12,000 regular season points while playing for five NBA organizations.
Smith has been tweeting about the struggles of adjusting to life as a student athlete. The veteran said he has been excited and challenged with his course load, but it is exactly what he wants from his delayed college experience.
“It was probably one of the most exciting feelings I’ve had in a while,” Smith said. “I really didn’t know how it was going to go. But to be able to actually call myself a student-athlete is a great feeling.”