North Carolina A&T’s J.R. Smith watches a tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the Phoenix Invitational golf tournament in Burlington, North Carolina on Oct. 11, 2021 (October 12 in Manila). AP PHOTO
BURLINGTON, North Carolina:
J.R. Smith couldn’t help but feel anxious.
Sure, he had spent 16 years playing in the NBA, making millions and winning two world championships in packed arenas at the highest level of a global sport.
But he had never been in the situation like he was Monday (Tuesday in Manila): lining up tee shots as a 36-year-old freshman walk-on playing his first college golf tournament for North Carolina A&T at Elon’s Phoenix Invitational.
“I was nervous, I was,” said Smith, who shot a 12-over-par 83 in Round 1 and then a 7-over 78 in Round 2. “I didn’t really know what to expect.”
That’s easy to understand considering how massive of a change it represents for Smith.
Exactly one year earlier, to the day, he was a shirtless part of an on-court celebration with LeBron James after the Los Angeles Lakers had just closed out a title run in the Florida pandemic bubble.
Smith had since been drawn to the Greensboro school because of his interest in attending a Historically Black College or University, which follows a push by the NBA and its players to support HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) traditions and culture in this year’s All-Star Game in Atlanta.