NBA champion J.R. Smith joins North Carolina A&T golf team as walk-on after enrolling at school

Written by on August 24, 2021

The last time we saw J.R. Smith in a competitive setting was with the NBA title-winning Los Angeles Lakers in 2019-20. The next time we see him in a competitive setting, however, it will be out on the links.

The two-time NBA champion recently returned to school and enrolled at North Carolina A&T to pursue a degree in liberal studies. And at 35 years old, he’s hoping he’s also found a spot on the Aggies’ golf team after the school received eligibility clearance from the NCAA. Smith committed to the North Carolina Tar Heels as a star high school basketball prospect but opted instead to jump straight to the NBA.

“It’s going to be fun,” Smith said in a Monday news conference via the AP. “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.”

It’s certainly going to be an unusual development, seeing a former NBA sharpshooter throwing darts on the course. But in the NIL era, his 16-year career in the NBA is not as big a hindrance as it would’ve been had he done this years ago.

Athletes in other sports — notably Florida State Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke — have played professionally, before returning to college to play a different sport. Weinke spent six years in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system before heading to Tallahassee and leading FSU to the 1999 national championship on the gridiron. 

“The performance of my golf team just got a helping hand because the young man in question is definitely a good player,” Aggies golf coach Richard Watkins said of Smith.

Watkins is likely thrilled Smith was able to join the team. Having a big name like Smith could not only help with visibility and recognition, but he’s also a reported 5 handicap.

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