By JR Gamble & Devon POV Mason
Once the cheer of the crowd and the social media attention wanes, many athletes struggle to continue achieving in life and elevating, post-retirement. The biggest challenge is often finding ways to quench their thirst for success.
If you haven’t heard (Googled or seen on Facebook, IG or any other number of mediums) about former NBA star JR Smith attending an HBCU, then you need to improve your mobile signal.
It’s a feel good story that’s making its way around the media mosh pit.
JR Smith was blessed in that he went straight to the NBA out of high school. He was able to acquire riches early in life and although he went through a maturation process and “grew up” on the job, being part of the 1 percent of all hoopsters who make the NBA, definitely made him a one of the privileged. Eventually, he grew into an All-star caliber player and an NBA champion.
However, he never got to enjoy campus life or immerse himself in the collegiate athletic opportunities and social experiences that most athletes do before they turn pro.
Smith, now retired from the NBA, is starting his next chapter in life; as a student athlete.
The NCAA ruled on Tuesday that the former two-time NBA champion is eligible to play golf at North Carolina A&T. The ruling came down one day after Smith officially began classes at the school, located in Greeensboro, N.C.
Freshman JR Smith 🔥⛳️ pic.twitter.com/ixCMXQFwsD
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) August 24, 2021
“It was probably one of the most exciting feelings I’ve had in a while,” Smith told the Undefeated on Tuesday. “I really didn’t know how it was going to go …. But to be able to actually call myself a student-athlete is a great feeling.”
Smith went straight from high school in New Jersey to the NBA Draft.
The freshman who turns 36 next month, joined the A&T golf team as a walk-on. Smith, who says he has a 5 handicap, will pursue a liberal studies degree. He wasn’t totally sure that he would be deemed eligible, but with all of his college eligibility left, there was nothing blocking Smith’s path.
“It’s going to be fun, Smith mentioned Monday. “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 correlated all the same for me.”
When he first announced his intentions, Twitter had jokes for the 16-year NBA vet, who last appeared in the league in 2019-20, when he played in a mere six games for the Los Angeles Lakers.
With his mission accomplished, an inspired and focused JR Smith even poked some fun at himself.
English is my first language but these papers though pic.twitter.com/9uSlfYLKTv
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) August 25, 2021
A former first-round pick of the then-New Orleans Hornets in 2004, the sharpshooting guard has career averages of 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest over 977 career games. The gun-slinging guard is also 16th all-time in three-point makes with 1,930.
He played for the Hornets (2004-06), Denver Nuggets (2006-11), New York Knicks (2011-15), Cleveland Cavaliers (2015-19) and Lakers (2019-20), winning titles with the Lebron James Cavs and Lakers.
As for his golf game, Smith says he’s been playing for about 12 years, and as he began to take the game more seriously, he frequented driving ranges and also worked to improve his swing on his own, never hiring a coach while picking up occasional tips from watching the Golf Channel.
Smith will be much older than his A&T teammates, but the college experience will be very new to a guy who has had the wealth and opportunity to do whatever he wants since 18.
Once labled as “clueless” by malicious media members, Smith is now an inspiration to thousands of athletes and a testament to the benefits of education, setting goals and experiencing new challenges — even at his stage in life. After all he’s accomplished.
He’s the “Big Man” on campus now. That’s something he’s never been.