J.R. Smith is heading to college for the first time, and the former NBA champion will get to call himself a student-athlete.
The NCAA ruled Smith eligible to compete for the golf team at North Carolina A&T. There had been questions about whether the NCAA would allow him to play given its amateurism rules, but because Smith hasn’t gone pro in golf, he was ruled eligible to play.
Now, Smith, 35, is just excited to begin life as a student-athlete.
“It was probably one of the most exciting feelings I’ve had in a while. I really didn’t know how it was going to go,” Smith said of his eligibility. “But to be able to actually call myself a student-athlete is a great feeling.”
Smith has been an avid golfer since 2009. He fell in love with the game while playing in Moses Malone’s charity classic and has honed his skills over the years. He now shoots to a reported 5-handicap.
North Carolina A&T’s coach, Richard Watkins, believes Smith will provide a boost to their team.
“The performance of my golf team just got a helping hand because the young man in question is definitely a good player,” Watkins said of Smith, per ESPN.
Smith knows he can help, and he’s looking forward to returning to a pressure-packed, competitive environment.
“It’s going to be fun,” Smith said in a Monday news conference. “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.”
Smith averaged 12.4 points per game on 37.3 percent 3-point shooting during his 17-season career. He also won two NBA championships, one with the Cavaliers and one with the Lakers during the 2019-20 season.
Now, he’ll look to add some golf hardware to his trophy case.
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