How NBA star J.R. Smith surprised his college golf teammates

Former NBA player J.R. Smith gets a word of encouragement from head coach Richard Watkins of the North Carolina A&T Aggies during the Phoenix Invitational at Alamance Country Club on October 11, 2021 in Burlington, North Carolina.

J.R. Smith is a two-time NBA champion — and now collegiate golfer.

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How does an NBA star become a collegiate golfer?

Easily enough, if you happen to be J.R. Smith.

The 38-year-old went straight to the NBA after high school in 2004 and ended his professional basketball career with two NBA championship rings: one with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and another with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.

In 2021, Smith enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University, and, with all four years of his collegiate athletic eligibility remaining, he joined the golf team.

jr smith swings a golf club during his college golf debut
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On the latest episode of The Scoop with GOLF’s Claire Rogers, Smith explained how he found himself back in school later in life.

“I’m much more than a basketball player,” Smith said. “I can’t look at myself as just an athlete, but I don’t want other people and my kids to look at me as just an athlete.

“I just decided to go back to school, get my degree, and potentially challenge myself to be better every single day.”

Challenging yourself academically is one thing, but Smith opted to fire on all cylinders and play golf as well, thanks to some encouragement from fellow NBA player Chris Paul, who convinced him to pursue golf instead of football.

Smith said he fit right in with his teammates, even fulfilling freshman duties like buying Gatorades and delivering practice balls.

“I feel like they were way more surprised at how humble I was, opposed to coming in as somebody with such a big ego, throwing their weight around,” Smith said. “I wanted to show them that I can be a regular person.”

For more from Smith on his college golf journey, check out the full episode of The Scoop below. Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on