J.R. Smith is going back to school to play … golf?

J.R. Smith's basketball career seems to have come to a close. His golf career is just getting starting.

The veteran NBA sharpshooter has enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University to pursue a degree in liberal studies and play on the school's golf team, according to the PGA Tour.

College signing day for @TheRealJRSmith. 🧢

The two-time @NBA champ is enrolling @NCATAggies with his sights set on the golf team.

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 11, 2021

Smith reportedly starts classes on Aug. 18 and is waiting for the NBA to determine his college eligibility.

Per the PGA Tour, Smith started playing golf 12 years ago at a charity event hosted by NBA Hall of Famer Moses Malone. He had reportedly been riding in cart when Malone told him to get out and hit the ball.

Smith reportedly shot the ball 300 yards dead center, sparking a love of golf that has since taken him to PGA Tour events as a spectator and sparked friendships including Keegan Bradley, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. He reportedly now holds a 5 handicap.

Smith also told reporters that Ray Allen had given him the idea to go back to school during a trip to the Dominican Republic. He also reportedly spoke with Chris Paul, who is currently working on a degree in communications at another HBCU, Winston-Salem State.

"Very special. I can't wait to be part of an HBCU Family." great to talk with @TheRealJRSmith here at @WyndhamChamp Pro-Am. Smith is enrolling at @ncatsuaggies (went to NBA straight from HS) and hopes to get NCAA Clearance to play on the @NCATAGGIES Golf Team. @WFMY#wfmysportspic.twitter.com/GzWuiVb95Q

— Brian Hall (@bhallwfmy) August 11, 2021

"They always told me I could go back whenever when I was coming out of high school, so this is 'whenever' for me," Smith said.

The A&T golf program would apparently be very happy to have him:

“It's a big deal for A&T. It's a big deal for him,” said Richard Watkins, who coaches both the men’s and women’s teams and was in Smith’s gallery on Wednesday. “It's not very often that somebody in his position really has an opportunity to have a thought, a dream, an idea, and to be able to go ahead and move in that direction.

How can J.R. Smith be a college athlete after a 16-year NBA career?

If your first reaction to all of the above information is "How can he do that," you're probably not alone.

After all, even the most casual sports fans know just how much of a stickler the NCAA can be when it comes to student-athletes making money, so it's imaginable Smith's $90 million in career earnings as a professional athlete would be a bit of an obstacle.

Fortunately for Smith, he has three major things going for him: a) he never played college basketball, b) he never played golf as a professional and c) the NCAA's new NIL policy.

The 35-year-old Smith was a product of the 2004 NBA draft, the second-to-last draft allowing high school players to be eligible. He had been committed to play at UNC as one of Roy Williams' first recruits, but opted to stay in the draft and went 18th overall to the New Orleans Hornets. That means Smith still has all of his college eligibility, just as a 35-year-old, per Watkins:

“He's a former professional athlete, but (it’s) a unique set of circumstances. He didn't go to college, never matriculated, the clock never started.”

As for Smith's chosen sport, it's obvious there's no playing for North Carolina A&T's basketball team. There could even be restrictions on how much he can interact with them. He might, however, be allowed to play on a golf team, because he never played golf as a professional.

You may remember a situation in which current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson transferred from NC State because the football coach would not allow him to split his time between college football and professional baseball. 

Wilson had been a three-year starter at quarterback for the Wolfpack, but was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft. Despite receiving a signing bonus from the Rockies and playing in their minor league system, Wilson was still allowed to play football as an amateur once he joined Wisconsin.

Of course, there are some differences between Wilson and Smith's stories, but the former shows how the latter could play a sport in college while being considered a professional in a different sport. There are also counter-examples to that principle. Jeremy Bloom's college football career was cut short in 2004 when the NCAA ruled him permanently ineligible for taking endorsements as a skier in preparation for the 2006 Winter Olympics. 

The big difference between Bloom and Smith, though, might be the NCAA's incredibly timed NIL ruling, which allows all student-athletes to accept endorsement deals. 

There may still be some knocks against Smith's case, but the broad strokes seem favorable. However, the NCAA is nothing if not inconsistent, so we'll just have to see where the organization's internal roulette wheel lands in Smith's case.

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