Former NBA standout JR Smith has enrolled at North Carolina A&T and intends to join the historically Black university’s men’s golf team if he gets cleared by the NCAA, the university confirmed on Wednesday.
North Carolina A&T athletics spokesman Brian Holloway told ESPN that Smith is officially enrolled in the school and has petitioned the NCAA to be eligible to play. Smith’s clock to compete as a collegiate athlete has not yet started because he went to the NBA after high school. Athletes, in most cases, get five years to complete four years of eligibility.
At the pro-am at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina, Smith told reporters Wednesday he decided to go back to school after a conversation with Basketball Hall of Famer Ray Allen.
“Ray Allen kind of convinced me,” Smith said Wednesday at the golf event. “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.”
Holloway said the next step in the process is navigating the 17 years since Smith’s senior year in high school (2004), which complicates the search for his academic records. But Smith is actively working to gain his eligibility, he said.
“We’re just going through the normal process we would go through with any prospective student-athlete,” Holloway said. “But this one is just a little different.”
Per NCAA rules, “an individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team in that sport.” But the laws do not ban a former pro athlete from competing in a different sport. Multiple collegiate athletes have played professional sports before returning to school to compete in Division I athletics.
Chris Weinke was 25 when he enrolled at Florida State after six seasons of professional baseball. Weinke led Florida State to a national title in 1999. He won the Heisman Trophy a year later, when he was 28.
Smith plays with a 5 handicap, according to PGATour.com. North Carolina A&T golf coach Richard Watkins told the site on Wednesday that having Smith on the 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.”
Smith, a McDonald’s All-American in high school, originally committed to play for Roy Williams and North Carolina before he decided to hire an agent and enter the 2004 NBA draft. The New Orleans Hornets selected Smith with the 18th pick. Smith won two NBA titles as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-16) and the Los Angeles Lakers (2019-20). He also won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award during the 2012-13 season.