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Former NBA player J.R. Smith is exemplifying the power of reinvention. Last year, he announced his enrollment in North Carolina A&T State University and he’s thriving in his second act. According to CBS Sports, Smith was named the HBCU’s Academic Athlete of the Year.

Smith—a native of New Jersey—embarked on his journey in the NBA straight out of high school. The McDonald’s All-American Game co-MVP initially committed to the University of North Carolina but ended up opting for the professional route. In 2004, he was selected as the 18th overall draft pick in the first round. Smith played in the NBA for 16 seasons and won two NBA titles with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Post-retirement, a deep conversation with NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen reportedly sparked Smith’s interest in returning to school.

“They always told me I could go back (to school) whenever,” he shared with the PGA Tour in an interview after announcing his decision to enroll in the HBCU. “So, this is whenever.”

The 36-year-old—who majors in liberal studies—earned a 4.0 GPA while competing on the golf team. After hitting the milestone, he took to Instagram to share his academic success is a culmination of hard work and dedication.

“I can’t even describe the feeling, I am not even going to lie to you,” he said in a video. “A lot of hard work went into that. Monday through Friday eight to eleven, sometimes longer, straight schoolwork.”

Smith received a chorus of congratulatory messages from NBA stars, including LeBron James who tweeted “YESSIR @TheRealJRSmith!! Proud of you Kid!!! Love bro.”

Smith is part of a collective of prominent athletes who have returned to school. Basketball legend Michael Jordan went back to the University of North Carolina to complete a bachelor’s degree in geography. Retired NBA star-turned-sports analyst Shaquille O’Neal returned to Louisiana State University to earn his bachelor’s degree and later graduated from Barry University with a doctorate in education.


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