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Ex-NBA star-turned college freshman JR Smith struggles in NCAA golf debut for North Carolina A&T


Two-time NBA champion-turned-college freshman JR Smith made his NCAA golf debut on Monday, but struggled on the back nine for North Carolina A&T and finished just six spots out of last place for the day.

The 36-year-old walk-on was competing at the Elon Phoenix Invitational at the Alamance Country Club in Burlington, North Carolina against players who were about half his age in some cases.

Smith did get a vote of confidence from his longtime teammate, LeBron James, who gave him a shoutout on Twitter: ‘HOW AMAZING IS THIS MAN!!! DAMN IM BEYOND PROUD OF MY BROTHER!’ 

Smith started strong, recording birdies on two of his first five wholes, but stumbled after the turn by bogeying or double-bogeying eight of his last night holes. He currently stands at 13-over par. 

Elon’s Pedro Rabadan is the leader midway through the two-day tournament at nine-under par.  

Former NBA player J.R. Smith of the North Carolina A&T Aggies looks down the fairway as he steps up to the tee box during the Phoenix Invitational at Alamance Country Club on Monday

Smith (left), 36, was competing at the Elon Phoenix Invitational at the Alamance Country Club in Burlington, North Carolina against players who were nearly half his age in some cases

Smith (left), 36, was competing at the Elon Phoenix Invitational at the Alamance Country Club in Burlington, North Carolina against players who were nearly half his age in some cases

J.R. Smith of the North Carolina A&T Aggies and Joey Morganti of the Temple Owls drive to the next hole during the Phoenix Invitational at Alamance Country Club on Monday

J.R. Smith of the North Carolina A&T Aggies and Joey Morganti of the Temple Owls drive to the next hole during the Phoenix Invitational at Alamance Country Club on Monday

Smith, who boasts a 5 handicap, has been an outspoken golf enthusiast for several years now and has played in several pro-am tournaments. 

‘He has a good enough golf game to put up some good numbers,’ NC A&T coach Richard Watkins said of Smith, as quoted by Reuters. 

‘But this is what I tell people: If you want to find out how good a golfer really is, put the word tournament or money in front of the round. Playing when there is nothing on the line is one thing. But, put meaning to it, and the heart rate changes. The grip on the club changes, and we get to see who you really are.’

This is Smith’s first experience as a college student.

He skipped the NCAA ranks before being drafted by the New Orleans Hornets out of Newark, New Jersey’s St. Benedict’s Prep in 2004. The NBA has since changed its eligibility rules, making Smith one of the last league players to jump directly to the pros from high school.

He is now pursuing a liberal arts degree at NC A&T, which is a historically black university located in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Smith, who was known for habitually breaking team and league rules as a player, has embraced his new role as a student.

He recently called educating himself the ‘single best move I’ve made in a long time,’ and bragged to his Twitter followers about getting an 85 on his liberal studies midterm.

J.R. Smith of the North Carolina A&T Aggies checks his course book during Monday's round

J.R. Smith of the North Carolina A&T Aggies checks his course book during Monday’s round 

Smith has been an outspoken golf enthusiast for several years now and has played in several pro-am tournaments. Smith is said to have a 5 handicap

Smith lines up a putt on Monday

Smith has been an outspoken golf enthusiast for several years now and has played in several pro-am tournaments. Smith is said to have a 5 handicap

JR Smith warms up before Monday's Phoenix Invitational at Alamance Country Club

JR Smith warms up before Monday’s Phoenix Invitational at Alamance Country Club

Smith greets playing partner Pedro Rabadan of the Elon Phoenix during Monday's tournament

Smith greets playing partner Pedro Rabadan of the Elon Phoenix during Monday’s tournament

The 16-year-NBA veteran has not played in the league since 2020, when he won a title as a bench player for the Los Angeles Lakers. It was his second NBA Finals victory alongside longtime teammate LeBron James, following their 2016 upset win over the Golden State Warriors.

It was in 2018 that the pair became encapsulated in a meme after James yelled at Smith on the court during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Smith had mistakenly attempted to dribble out the clock in a tie game, thinking the Cavaliers were beating the favored Warriors. 

A former Sixth Man of the Year, Smith averaged 12.4 points a game for his career with the Hornets, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Cavs and Lakers

A former Sixth Man of the Year, Smith averaged 12.4 points a game for his career with the Hornets, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Cavs and Lakers

Cleveland ultimately lost in overtime, and the shot of James yelling at Smith has endured as one of the more popular memes on social media.

Smith’s basketball career will also be remembered for his frequent run-ins with coaches and the league.

Not only has he been fined twice for untying opponents’ shoes during a game, but he’s also been suspended for a reckless driving arrest in 2009, he seemingly referenced gangs in a tweet that same year, and in 2012 he was arrested for failing to appear in court after being cited for operating a motor-scooter without a valid license.

He also once threw soup on Cavs assistant coach Damon Jones in 2018.

Most famously, Smith spent the days following the Cavs’ 2016 title without a shirt, prompting then-president Barack Obama to ask Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue to intervene.

‘Tell JR Smith to put on a shirt, though,’ Obama told Lue. ‘He can’t just be walking around without a shirt for the [inaudible].’

A former Sixth Man of the Year, Smith averaged 12.4 points a game for his career with the Hornets, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Cavs and Lakers.    

Smith has not played in the league since 2020, when he won a title as a bench player for the Los Angeles Lakers. It was his second NBA Finals victory alongside longtime teammate LeBron James, following their 2016 upset win over the Golden State Warriors. It was in 2018 that the pair became encapsulated in a meme (pictured) after James yelled at Smith on the court during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Smith had mistakenly attempted to dribble out the clock in a tie game, thinking the Cavaliers were beating the favored Warriors. Cleveland ultimately lost in overtime, and the shot of James yelling at Smith has endured as one of the more popular memes on social media

Smith has not played in the league since 2020, when he won a title as a bench player for the Los Angeles Lakers. It was his second NBA Finals victory alongside longtime teammate LeBron James, following their 2016 upset win over the Golden State Warriors. It was in 2018 that the pair became encapsulated in a meme (pictured) after James yelled at Smith on the court during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Smith had mistakenly attempted to dribble out the clock in a tie game, thinking the Cavaliers were beating the favored Warriors. Cleveland ultimately lost in overtime, and the shot of James yelling at Smith has endured as one of the more popular memes on social media





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