FSU's James goes from war to ACC
Junior brings leadership and war experience to Seminoles
Brian Lester, NCAA.com
Bernard James nearly slam dunked his life into a trash can. He was cut as a freshman from the basketball team at Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, Ga., and by the age of 16, he dropped out of school.
He seemed destined to fall through the cracks of society and end up as one of those athletes who has the potential to be great but never learns how to make it happen. The idea of him becoming a star at Florida State was as far-fetched as a blizzard striking Tallahassee in June.
“I worried a lot about my future,” James said. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life.”
The thing is, James didn’t lack intelligence. He simply lacked the desire to go the extra mile to succeed.
“I didn’t like school, but I was never the type of person to sit around and do nothing,” James said. “I didn’t want to live at home forever and have my parents nagged me about doing something with my life.”
So here is how James went from hopeless to a story of hope and inspiration. His stepfather was a seasoned military man and James decided to give the armed forces a shot. He earned his GED at 17 and joined the Air Force.
“My stepfather gave me the idea and I went for it,” James said. “I felt like I had a purpose in my life again.”
James went through basic training in San Antonio, busting his tail in 100-degree heat. The training didn’t surprise him as he learned quite a bit about it while growing up.
It did, however, lay the foundation for his journey to FSU where is currently averaging 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for a Seminoles' team that is 14-5 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I was used to the training because of my step-dad. The only thing that surprised me was how in-your-face everyone was,” James said. “But I excelled at the training and it definitely prepared me for basketball. Playing basketball is pretty easy compared to what I dealt with in the military. I don’t get stressed out about much.”
Basketball doesn’t compare to what James saw during his time in the military while rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He served in places such as Iraq and Qatar. He was even stationed at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq where he worked with the Air Force Military Police to assist the Army in guarding 22,000 detainees.
Gunfire and bomb explosions were part of the soundtrack of life in the Middle East. The lifestyle made James take a closer look at the blessings of living in the United States.
“It was a humbling experience,” James said. “It made me appreciate what we have in America. You see a lot in a war zone and the experience over there helped me develop my character.”
It was in the military that James re-discovered his passion for basketball. He joined the intramural team at the Beale Air Force Base in California and eventually had an opportunity to showcase his skills at the international level, leading the United States Armed Forces All-Star team to the 2008 International Military Sports Council championship. It was the team’s first championship since 1998.
James was named the MVP of the tournament, scoring 12 points, grabbing 18 rebounds and blocking six shots in an 84-74 title game win over Lithuania.
“To be able to go out and dominate the way I did gave me a lot of confidence,” James said. “I started believing that I could play at the college level.”
James would get an opportunity to do just that at Tallahassee Community College. He didn’t hesitate in take advantage of it.
As a freshman, James clicked for 12.1 points per outing and pulled down 8.8 rebounds per game. He racked up seven double-doubles, including a 38-point, 16-rebound effort against Northwest Florida State, and was named the Panhandle Conference Freshman of the Year in 2009.
A year later, he dropped in 14 points per game and pulled down 10.3 rebounds per game as he earned All-Panhandle Conference First Team honors for a second consecutive season.
“Playing at TCC helped me out tremendously,” James said. “The college game is so much faster than what I was used to in the military. It was challenging at first, but I was able to start playing well and had a good run.”
James had several Division I schools express interest in him. FSU seemed like the best option.
“It was a good fit,” James said. “There were other schools in the ACC looking at me, but Florida State felt like the right place for me.”
Turns out he was right. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward had a double-double in his first game with the Seminoles, pouring in 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a season-opening 75-55 win over North Florida.
James has been a steady contributor for the Seminoles and had a pair of big baskets in the first half of a showdown against top-ranked Duke earlier this month. He scored on two putbacks to give FSU a 28-24 lead at halftime. FSU went on to stun the Blue Devils 66-61 at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
James scored eight points and tallied five rebounds in the win.
“Playing at this level is a big adjustment,” James said. “I had to get used to not thinking as much and just slow things down. I had to learn how to take advantage of my athleticism.”
James said he is proud of what he has accomplished in his life. He savors the opportunity he has to play big-time college basketball and hopes his story will influence others to never give up even when the odds seem to be stacked against them.
“It’s been a long and interesting journey,” James said. “I’ve had people on Facebook and Twitter tell me how they have read my story and that they are inspired by it. I hope people realize that no matter how bad things seem, nothing is impossible.”