CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 11: JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball during the game against the Boston Celtics on February 11, 2018 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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, might be out on the links.

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 26: Pro basketball player J. R. Smith attends the 2015 BET Experience – BETX Celebrity Golf Classic on June 26, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for BET)

The two-time NBA champion is returning to school and enrolling at North Carolina A&T to pursue a degree in liberal studies, according to the PGA Tour. And at 35 years old, he’s hoping he can also find a spot on the Aggies’ golf team if the NCAA — which is apparently trying to sort out his eligibility — will clear him. Smith committed to the North Carolina Tar Heels as a star high school basketball prospect but opted instead to jump straight to the NBA.

“Trying to figure out if I still have eligibility,” Smith told reporters Wednesday at the Wyndham Pro-Am about his move. “More importantly, I’m trying to educate myself and do something after basketball. They always told me I could go back whenever, when I was coming out of high school. So this is whenever for me.”

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – NOVEMBER 19: JR Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers tries to drive around Stanley Johnson #7 of the Detroit Pistons during the first half at Little Caesars Arena on November 19, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“Very special. I can’t wait to be part of an HBCU Family.” great to talk with @TheRealJRSmith here at @WyndhamChamp Pro-Am. Smith is enrolling at @ncatsuaggies (went to NBA straight from HS) and hopes to get NCAA Clearance to play on the @NCATAGGIES Golf Team. @WFMY #wfmysports — Brian Hall (@bhallwfmy) August 11, 2021

Whether the NCAA will clear Smith to play college golf remains to be seen. That he never played competitively at the college level may help his case. It’d certainly be an unusual development, seeing a former NBA sharpshooter throwing darts on the course. But in the NIL era perhaps 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, begore 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. 

“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,” said Richard Watkins, A&T’s men’s and women’s golf coach who was watching Smith this week at the Wyndham Pro-Am. “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.”

Watkins is likely selfishly hoping Smith can be cleared. Having a big name like Smith could help with visibility and recognition, but he’s also a reported 5 handicap.

Courtesy: CBS Sports


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