It’s rarely ever too late to go after your dreams, and for two-time NBA champion J.R. Smith, his goals are to play on the men’s golf team for North Carolina A&T State University, only if the NCAA agrees to clear his eligibility.
According to ESPN, the former Cleveland Cavaliers star is confirmed to be enrolled at the Historically Black College where he has petitioned the NCAA to allow him to play, which may come as a surprise to fans who’ve watched the 35-year-old compete at a professional level for the last 16 years. However, according to the sports outlet, Smith’s “clock to compete as a collegiate athlete” didn’t start because he impressively went straight to the NBA after high school though he committed to playing ball for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004. Additionally, the outlet noted that athletes get five years to complete four years of eligibility in most cases.
“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,” Smith told reporters at a golf event in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Wednesday, Aug. 11, revealing that it was Hall of Famer Ray Allen who inspired him to enroll in college. “I really took heed to it and decided to go back — and one of the best liberal studies programs is at A&T.”
NCAA rules state that, “an individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team in that sport.” However, the laws do not prohibit a former pro athlete from competing in a different sport.
North Carolina A&T athletics spokesman Brian Holloway told ESPN the next steps include navigating the years that followed since Smith’s senior year in high school (2004) — which may complicate the search for his academic records. Still, the former ballplayer appears eager and ready to make it happen. “We’re just going through the normal process we would go through with any prospective student-athlete,” Holloway explained. “But this one is just a little different.”
The internet’s reaction to Smith’s post-pro-ball plans was a mixture of jokes and many fans expressing their excitement to see Smith on a different playing field. “Say what you want but if JR Smith on the golf team ima be at the golf matches like it’s a basketball game,” wrote one Twitter user.
Complex’s Pierce Simpson applauded the star on the move, writing, “JR Smith had an incredibly successful NBA career that has been overshadowed by that one moment… But this journey to an HBCU to play a sport that has not showcased many black faces to begin with… that’s special.” He added, “And he’s being authentically himself, too. I love that.”
According to an official announcement from the university, Smith is scheduled to start this fall as he pursues a degree in liberal studies as well as with his ultimate quest to join the golf team.