J.R. Smith couldn’t assist however really feel anxious.
Certain, he had spent 16 years taking part in within the NBA, making hundreds of thousands and successful two world championships in packed arenas on the highest degree of a world sport. However he had by no means been within the state of affairs like he was Monday: lining up tee pictures as a 36-year-old freshman walk-on taking part in his first faculty golf match for North Carolina A&T at Elon’s Phoenix Invitational.
“I used to be nervous, I used to be,” mentioned Smith, who shot a 12-over-par 83 in Spherical 1 after which a 7-over 78 in Spherical 2. “I didn’t actually know what to anticipate.”
That’s straightforward to know contemplating how huge of a change it represents for Smith. Precisely one yr earlier, to the day, he was a shirtless a part of an oncourt celebration with LeBron James after the Los Angeles Lakers had simply closed out a title run within the Florida pandemic bubble.
Smith had since been drawn to the Greensboro college due to his curiosity in attending a Traditionally Black School or College, which follows a push by the NBA and its gamers to support HBCU traditions and culture in this year’s All-Star Game in Atlanta.
On Monday, Smith’s delight got here from representing a HBCU for the primary time as an Aggies golfer on the two-day occasion at Alamance Nation Membership.
“We’re such a small a part of the share of the nation, not to mention the budgeting system,” Smith mentioned with fun. “As a result of I see all people else has obtained vans and all this different stuff. But it surely’s nice. It’s nice to characterize them. It’s nice for the varsity to get the popularity as a result of they deserve it, and my fellow classmates.
“That’s what I’m most enthusiastic about: to have the ability to come again to campus and my teammates have their head held excessive with a victory coming from a match is what we search for.”
It’s a school expertise nearly 20 years delayed for Smith, who was initially slated to play basketball at North Carolina earlier than leaping from the preps to the NBA to change into a first-round decide in 2004.
“I used to be fairly happy with him,” Aggies coach Richard Watkins mentioned. “He made some errors, did some issues you’ll do when you’re not used to competing. Simply going out and taking part in leisure golf together with your buddies is a complete lot completely different than competitors.
“That first 18 was simply to get his toes moist. Then he buckled down and I used to be actually happy with what he did that second 18, as a result of schooling would not come low cost. And I feel he realized some classes on the market immediately.”
Smith’s presence in a blue A&T hoodie and white pants drew a mini-gallery ranging between 15 and 30 curious onlookers following him across the course. Eli Ehrbar couldn’t go up the prospect to be a part of that.
The 21-year-old is a local of Cleveland, the place Smith helped the James-led Cavaliers to the 2016 world championship. The Elon senior mentioned it felt like a bit of fine fortune that Smith certified for his first faculty match so shut.
“Once I noticed he certified, I used to be like, ‘I’ve to return,’” mentioned Ehrbar, carrying a burgundy Cavaliers hoodie. “I feel that was type of the sensation with me and a few my buddies. We had been like, it is a world-class athlete, a world champion NBA participant. Particularly being from Cleveland, it simply hits a little bit house in a different way.”
Smith appeared relaxed sufficient via quite a few holes. When one tee shot hit a tree and landed within the fairway, Smith was fast to quip that he known as the financial institution shot. He gave a playful “beep, beep” as his cart pushed by Temple golfer Joey Morganti made its method via the onlookers on the cart path.
And when an excited 2-year-old yellow labrador retriever named “Fortunate” began barking from a close-by house’s entrance yard throughout one in every of Smith’s pictures, Smith stopped and shouted from throughout the inexperienced: “What’s your title?”
Smith mentioned he wished to be simply one other competitor on the match, although he understood the additional consideration that got here along with his debut.
“Greater than something, it is simply with the ability to go on the market and compete as one of many guys, simply one other title, and get my (butt) kicked,” Smith mentioned. “It was truly a really humbling feeling. Once more, I am able to go to that vary to work on it. I had enjoyable, however I do not like dropping.”