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JR Smith ready to reach links, classroom with North Carolina A&T Aggies

JR Smith is finally getting the college athlete experience he missed almost two decades ago.

The 16-year-old NBA veteran who skipped college basketball, won two championships and made millions is now a first-round pick for the North Carolina A&T men’s golf team. Now, instead of first-class cross country for night matches against the best basketball players in the world, Smith – who turns 36 next month – is set on completing class assignments and working on his golf game.

“It’s going to be fun,” Smith told an online news conference on Monday. ‘It’s clearly different environments, from playing in front of 20,000 people to playing in a golf gallery.

“But it’s still as nerve-wracking as shooting a free throw in front of 5,000 instead of making a 5-foot hole in front of three. So it’s all the same to me.”

Smith said he was attracted to the school in Greensboro, North Carolina, because of his interest in attending a Historically Black College of University, following pressure from the NBA and its players on HBCU traditions and – support culture in this year’s All-Star Game in Atlanta.

Smith returns to the state where he originally intended to play basketball. The 6-foot guard would join the traditionally rich North Carolina under Roy Williams in 2004, but instead jumped straight to the NBA and was a first choice.

He scored more than 12,000 regular season points while playing for five NBA teams. This included joining LeBron James in winning titles with Cleveland in 2016 and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Florida pandemic bubble in 2020 – and each celebrates in an unforgettable shirtless way.

That was then. It’s now.

For the past two days, Smith has been tweeting about an impending assignment date: his first PowerPoint presentation to an English class about where he sees himself in the next five to ten years.

“For me, because I have a wild imagination, it’s going to be very interesting,” Smith said. “I do not know if the professor is prepared for that, and I am clearly not the average freshman. So I do not know how I am going.”

As for his golf game, Smith said he has been playing for about 12 years. As he took the game more seriously, he was regularly at his lanes and improved his own swing, never hiring a coach while occasionally getting tips to watch Golf Channel.

“I just know how to compete with myself,” Smith said. “As a shooter and with golf, it’s related to trying to hit different shots and your creativity, and swinging there and trying to have that flow and pace.”

The self-taught style was enough to impress PGA pro Dustin Johnson, who said in 2016: “He can play.”

Aggies coach Richard Watkins agrees with Johnson.

“The performance of my golf team only got a helping hand, because the young man in question is definitely a good player,” Watkins said of Smith.

The Aggies’ first golf game comes on September 24-25 at the Black College Golf Coaches Association Invitational in Newnan, Georgia.

Until then, Smith will be juggling schoolwork – most of his courses are currently online – and working on his golf game.

Smith said this is exactly what he wants from his delayed college experience.

“It’s not even a week yet, but as I start into it, I’m still eager to learn more and join study groups and try to really understand the lifestyle,” Smith said.

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