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Scott Howard-Cooper

Bernard James left FSU as the school's all-time leader in blocked shots per game (2.4).
Courtesy Florida State University

Rookie life? No sweat when compared to past for FSU's James

Posted Jun 14 2012 2:17PM

After what you've been through, will Kevin Garnett seem intimidating?

Yeah, right.

Bernard James literally laughed at the suggestion.

"No," he said. "Not at all. He's one of my favorite players, actually."

Blake Griffin?


"Nah," James said. "I'm ready to mix it up with those guys. Just give me a chance."

How about Dwight Howard? Will he intimidate you?

Bernard James (right) did tours in Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq in the Air Force before starring at Florida State.
Courtesy Florida State University

Funny stuff.

"No," James answered again. "He's a little big. I need to put on a couple pounds, but he's not going to intimidate me."

Ah, the benefits of having a mortar explode a couple a couple dozen yards away. The guy guarded suspected terrorists at a detainment camp in Iraq. So, yeah, being told to put a body on Kevin Love in the fourth quarter on the road is really going to freak him out.

Bernard James is from Savannah, Ga., and the real world. He is a high school dropout who joined the Air Force at 16 with his parent's consent, shipped out to basic training when he was 17, did tours in Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq with security and military police, earned his GED, went to junior college, advanced to Florida State and got an economics degree while being named honorable mention All-ACC.

Now James, 27, is officially an NBA prospect, likely headed for the second round as a 6-foot-10, 230-pound power forward with one of the amazing back stories of this or any other draft. Just your typical college player getting thanked after games by fans on the road for his service, just your typical senior eight or nine years older than some teammates.

"I lot of times, I feel like I was babysitting," James said of his two seasons at Florida State. "But I got used to it. I adjusted to it. But now that I'm out of college, it'll be nice to be around adults full-time now."

It all factors into the June 28 decision by NBA front offices -- the advanced age for a rookie, the six years of military experience, the unusual level of maturity that jumps out in interviews with teams and reporters. Most of that unprecedented background is an obvious positive. The only potential drawback is that the career window is much smaller for someone 27 compared to typical draftees in their late-teens or early-20s.

The counter is the chance to get anyone in the second round as physically ready to contribute on the spot. One general manager said James makes his team right now, high praise for someone taken anywhere from No. 31 to 60 if it plays out that way in a couple weeks. That toughness makes James a great practice player if nothing else and his age factor makes him more focused than most rookies on that job at hand.

Great off-court story aside, Bernard James' on-court skills have NBA scouts interested.
Courtesy Florida State University

And, of course, that resume'. Teams naturally ask about the six years with Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento as his home station and reaching the rank of staff sergeant. Potential bosses want to know about his past, but also what it will meant to his future.

"What I learned from the military and how that translates over to basketball," James said. "Just from a maturity standpoint, it's huge. I definitely take a business-like approach to basketball. I understand what it is to have a career, to have a job, and what goes into that. The effort that you've got to put, mentally and physically. That definitely carries over from the military, as well as leadership. And being a follower too. Whatever your role is, just being part of the team and buying into that role and doing your job."

Thirty coaches just teared up. The demands for their GM to draft this guy are soon to follow.

"I worked at a detainment facility, guarding 22,000 detainees," James said of his tour in Iraq. "[There were] suspected terrorists awaiting trial over there. It was rough. There were murders every day. We got mortar-attacked a couple times. One landed about 75 feet from me one time. That knocked me on my butt. It was definitely dangerous over there. Scary."

Needing to survive rookie training camp and the season of charter flights and luxury hotels that follows? Maybe he'll handle it. That's all part of it, too, that teams know that James can laugh off any so-called life challenge the NBA throws at newcomers. That's all part of the appeal.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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