Former North Carolina basketball player K.J. Smith — son of two-time NBA Champion, commentator and UNC alumnus Kenny Smith — recently joined the litany of retired athletes gracing the sets of the nation’s most prominent sports outlets.
Though he's now in the network of former players turned analysts, Smith has aspirations that soar beyond carving himself out a corner in the industry.
“My long term goal is to be the best sports broadcaster that there is,” he said.
After averaging 13 minutes per game during his first season at the University of the Pacific, Smith transferred to North Carolina in 2017. He was a staple at UNC for three years, most notably starting in place of an injured Cole Anthony during the 2019-20 season.
A fan favorite, students may remember when Smith was offered the Tar Heels’ final scholarship for that season in a video that went viral on campus.
“I distinctly remember seeing the video of him getting his scholarship on Instagram," senior Kenan Sayers said. "I couldn’t have imagined a more deserving player.”
As his college career came to an end in March, Smith was faced with two options: play basketball overseas or work to become a media personality. This decision was made easier by Smith’s connections within the sports media world, namely Shannon Terry, founder and CEO of 247Sports and Rivals.com.
Smith and Terry met through the former’s startup, a virtual basketball camp called Jet Academy. From then on, Smith became committed to entering the space of broadcast journalism through Terry’s latest company — On3.com
As a national basketball analyst for On3, Smith flew between Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas this summer evaluating the best AAU recruits the country has to offer.
He also met Joe Tipton, known amongst division one hopefuls for his player commitment graphics. The two started a podcast called “The And 1 Show with KJ and Joe,” where they delve into any topics related to college basketball recruiting.
“It’s a great angle because one, I played, and two, now being outside of basketball, I know that there are interesting aspects of these player’s lives that people should know,” Smith said.
Smith's own experiences, Tipton said, makes him an ideal person for this venture.
“KJ brings a great deal of knowledge about the game of basketball, having played it and been around it his entire life," Tipton said. "He’s built key relationships and is connected well throughout the sport.”
Most often, athletes transition into the world of journalism in their twilight years as a natural continuation of their career in sport.
But Smith, now 25, sees his relatively young age as an advantage.
Being no more than 10 years older than the prospects he scouts, Smith has the benefit of being more in-tune with the realities recruits face in the social media age.
And with youth, experience and ambition on his side, it's no surprise that Smith is shooting for the moon.
“I have a younger start than others, many guys my age continue to play but I got into this instead," he said. "I want to be well-known, I want to be up there with guys like my dad and Stephen A. (Smith). Why not?”