BURLINGTON N.C. -- JR Smith could not help but feel anxious.
He had been a professional basketball player for 16 years, winning two world championships and making millions. He had never been in a situation like Monday, when he was a 36-year old freshman walk-on playing in his first college tournament at Elon's Phoenix Invitational for North Carolina A&T.
Smith said, "I was nervous, i was," and shot a 12-over-par-83 in Round 1, followed by a 7-over-78 in Round 2. "I wasn't sure what to expect."
It's not hard to see how significant a shift it is for Smith. One year earlier, Smith was wearing a shirtless outfit at an on-court celebration with LeBron Jam, just after the Los Angeles Lakers had closed out a run for the NBA title in the Florida pandemic bubble.
Smith was attracted to Greensboro's school by his desire to attend a Historically Black College/University. This follows a push from the NBA and its players, to support HBCU culture and traditions in the All-Star Game in Atlanta.
Smith was proud to represent a HBCU at the Alamance Country Club two-day event.
Smith laughed and said, "We're such an insignificant part of the country, let along the budgeting system." "Because I can see that everybody else has vans and all the other stuff. It's amazing. It's great being able to represent them. It's wonderful for them to be recognized, as well as my classmates.
"That's the thing I'm most excited аbout: being able to return to campus with my teammates and have their heads held high with a win coming from a tournament is something we strive for."
Smith's college experience has been delayed almost 20 years. Smith was originally supposed to play basketball at North Carolina, but he jumped from the preps to join the NBA in 2004 to be a first-round selection.
Richard Watkins, Aggies coach, said that he was pleased with his performance. He made mistakes and did things that you would do if you aren't used to competing. Playing recreational golf with friends is so much more fun than competing.
"The first 18 was to get his feet a little wet. He buckled down and did a second 18. Education doesn't come cheap. He learned some valuable lessons today, I believe."
Smith was seen wearing a blue A&T jacket and white pants, drawing a crowd of between 15-30 curious observers following him around the course. Eli Ehrbar couldn’t resist the opportunity to be a part of this.
Smith, a 21-year old Cleveland native, helped the Cavaliers win the 2016 world championship. Elon senior Elon said that Smith's qualification for the college tournament was a blessing.
Ehrbar, dressed in a Cavaliers burgundy hoodie, said, "When I saw that he qualified, it was like, ‘I must come,’” "That was the feeling I had with a few of my friends. We thought, "This is a world-champion NBA basketball player." It just hit a little differently, especially being from Cleveland.
Through many holes, Smith appeared to be relaxed enough. Smith laughed when one of his tee shots hit a tree and fell in the fairway. As Joey Morganti from Temple drove his cart along the cart path, Smith gave a playful "beep," beep.
Smith was enraged when Lucky, a 2-year-old yellow labrador retriever named Lucky, began barking in a neighbor's yard during Smith's shot. Smith shouted "What's my name?"
Smith stated that he was just looking to be another participant at the tournament, but he appreciated the extra attention that came with being his first appearance.
Smith stated, "More important than anything, it’s just being able go out there to compete as one of those guys, just another [name] and get my [butt] kicked." It was a very humble feeling. I'm willing to travel to that range again to work on it. It was fun, but it wasn't something I enjoyed losing."