Ex-NBA star J.R. Smith shares joys, frustrations as student as he tries hand at college golf

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J.R. Smith is reading short stories in his English class, studying nutrition in his family and consumer science class.

But the lessons for the longtime NBA player at North Carolina A&T aren’t just in the classroom. Smith also has learned college isn’t all fun and games. It’s not golf 24/7 even though he enrolled in part to play on the university’s golf team.

In a series of tweets over the past week, Smith, who turns 36 on Sept. 9, shared his freshman experience, expressing frustration of being back in the classroom for the first time since his senior year of high school in 2004.

“I hated school growing up and I knew this would be a challenge, but that's not going to discourage me one second. You have to be able to buckle down and lock into new journeys and challenges coming in your life. Observe, learn and adapt,” Smith tweeted.

J.R. Smith spent 16 years in the NBA but is now trying to make the golf team at North Carolina A&T.
J.R. Smith spent 16 years in the NBA but is now trying to make the golf team at North Carolina A&T.

He asked if it were natural to “want to switch majors” one week into his first semester and tweeted, “Been up since 5am LA time working on my education assignments. One bad week will not spoil the semester. Lace your boots up put your head up and go to work.”

On Sunday, he wrote, “So disappointed in myself this first week man.”

Smith was once one of the best 450 basketball players in the world, a former champion and Sixth Man of the Year. It is estimated that he's made more than $90 million during his NBA career. Now, he’s just like thousands of other college freshmen trying, maybe even struggling, to find their way – turning in assignments before a midnight deadline and contemplating the value of joining a fraternity.

His honest words reveal a vulnerability and humility but also inspiring to others trying to make a life change. In return, Smith has received tips and encouragement from professors, tutors, students, celebrities and media personalities, among others.

Nearly two decades ago, Smith committed to play basketball for Roy Williams at North Carolina. But after impressive performances in high school all-star games, including the 2004 McDonald’s All-American game in which he was named co-MVP with Dwight Howard, Smith decided bypass college for the NBA.

He embarked on a successful 16-year career winning titles with Cleveland in 2016 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 and earning Sixth Man of the Year in 2013.

“After a while, school just disappeared from my mind,” Smith told reporters last week. “I didn’t think I would have that urge or want to go back or let alone encouraged to go back.”

A big golf fan and avid golfer, Smith often watched PGA Tour events in his NBA locker room and sometimes brought his clubs on road trips. After a regular-season game against Milwaukee during his Cavs days, Smith watched the final holes of a tournament on his iPad before starting his postgame press conference. And there was the year early in his Cavs days when he played 36 holes on an off day in Orlando and 18 the next day before that night’s game.

Smith said he put away the clubs for the 2015-16 season and didn’t play a full round until after the Cavaliers won the title. And, of course, he was one of the Lakers who made use of tee times in the Orlando bubble in 2020.

He didn’t play in the NBA last season and contemplated what life after basketball might look like. It’s not always an easy transition especially when your “career” is over by your mid-30s.

Smith decided to attend college.

“Being able to compete and challenge myself academically is where my heart is right now,” Smith said. “Being able to play golf at the same time is even better. It gives me incentive to keep my grades up.”

North Carolina A&T opens its fall season Sept. 24-25 at the Black College Golf Coaches Association Invitational.

“Obviously it’s a different environment from playing in front of 20,000 people to playing in a college golf gallery,” Smith said. “It’s still as nerve-wracking shooting a free throw in front of 5,000 people as it making a 5-foot putt in front of 30 (people). It all correlates the same.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: J.R. Smith shares experience as student in new life as college golfer