GREENSBORO, NC — JR Smith was given the same first-week assignment that everyone else in his freshman English class at North Carolina A&T was: write where you see yourself in five years. But as with pretty much everything he does as a student, and a student-athlete, the two-time NBA champion knows his trajectory will be different — to stay the least.
“For me, I have a pretty wild imagination. So I don’t if the teacher — or the professor, I should say — is prepared for that,” he said on a conference with media on Monday. “And I’m obviously not the average freshman, so I don’t know how I’m going to do. They just tell me I’ve got a wild imagination, so it’s gonna be interesting.”
But even in J.R. Smith’s wildest imagination, he never saw himself as a soon-to-be 36-year-old walk-on collegiate golfer. But here he is.
“It was definitely nerve-racking because I haven’t had to turn in anything and have the approval of anything other than my athletic ability in a really long time. It’s definitely a different situation to be in.”
Smith has been cleared by the NCAA to compete with the A&T golf program. It’s a big leap for him after he made a big leap to jump from high school to the NBA back in 2004. Initially a North Carolina commit, he admitted there were times early on in his pro career that he wished he had gone to college (and played basketball).
“I wasn’t really playing my first year and Carolina wins the NCAA championship, so I definitely thought about hit ma lot my early years. But then after a while, school just disappeared in my mind. I didn’t think I’d have that urge or want to go back — or let alone courage to go back.”
But he did find the courage. His goal was to become a student. The athlete part came later.
“Being able to compete and challenge myself academically is where my heart is right now,” he said. “Being able to play golf at the same time is even better, so it gives me an incentive to keep my grades up.”
Smith says he’s not worried about “fitting in” on the team. He knows his age and life experience will make him stand out. But he does look forward to being a part of the program.
“Going into a situation trying to be somebody you’re not and your true colors are still going to come out anyway,” he said. “Just me being me, being who I am — the team embracing that and me embracing them as well — it’s going to be fun. “
One thing we know about Smith is that he keeps it all the way real. When asked on the zoom call by an A&T alumnus as to whether A&T’s social scene, Smith candidly said he didn’t know anything about that. And back as a prep high school star in New Jersey, no HBCUs were on his radar.
“Actually I never heard anything about A&T. If you could put college and illiterate next to anybody it would be me. Unless it was about schools like Carolina or Duke, like about playing sports or Miami or something like that, I never knew anything about it. And then HBCUs weren’t brought to my attention, honestly until I was like a junior or senior in high school. It wasn’t a thought, actually.”
Something else he only became recently aware of: Bojangles’ frosted “Bo Berry Biscuits.” But now that he knows, he’s a fan.
“Nobody ever told me about the BoBerry Biscuits,” he said. “I was actually upset about that. All of these Carolina dudes I had on my teams and played against my whole life, y’all had this and didn’t tell me. That’s crazy.”
Smith also addressed the elephant in the room. He last played in the NBA in 2020, as he won an NBA title as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He most recently played basketball in China before pursuing his academic desires. But Smith candidly admitted that he still has the desire to play in the NBA.
“If it comes calling— fortunately, my classes are pretty much all online,” he said. “So my schedule is flexible other than my golf tournaments and working on my golf game. If the opportunity is there, obviously I’m not going to turn it down because that’s been my heart and soul for the last 15, 16 years. But the opportunity to do both, that’s interesting.”