Other than Virginia Commonwealth University graduates all airmen have a rooting interest in Florida State in tonight’s March Madness docket. One of their own roams the paint for the Seminoles after finishing six years in the Air Force.
Florida State forward Bernard James has transformed from an airmen into one of the leading defensive big men left in the NCAA tournament.
A high school drop out, James took the long way to college basketball stardom that included three deployments to Iraq. At age 26, he’s one of the oldest college basketball players this side of Brigham Young University.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton discovered James at a 2005 basketball tournament when the 6-foot 10 airmen starred on the U.S. Armed Forces All-Star team.
James didn’t get off easy and just play basketball his Air Force career, though. He deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq, in 2007 where he helped oversee 22,000 detainees as an Air Force Military Police.
In James’ first season at FSU, Hamilton has given him serious minutes from the first tip. When FSU star forward Chis Singleton was injured, Hamilton leaned even more on his former airman.
Seeded tenth in the Southwest region the Seminoles have been an underdog in their first two games. They snuck by Texas A&M and then laid waste to a Notre Dame team that many analysts listed as a possible National Championship contender.
James, who scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against Notre Dame, quickly ended Notre Dame’s championship dreams and caused many to wonder if the Big East, which got 11 teams into the tournament, was overrated.
Tonight on TBS at 9:57 p.m. EST the Seminoles will play an unfamiliar role — favorite — as they take on tournament Cinderella VCU and their baby-faced coach.
The Seminoles will again depend on James to patrol the paint. He’s had three blocks in the first two rounds. But FSU has also come to rely on James’ scoring. He’s scored double figures in his last five games.
James isn’t the only player on the Seminoles roster with a military career on his mind.
A.J. Yawn made the team in a 2009 tryout and is on scholarship this season. Yawn signed up with the Florida National Guard in 2008 and continued training with the ROTC on campus. He will earn his commission and join the Army this spring.
Hamilton spoke proudly of both to USA Today. “I feel fortunate that these guys are on our team,” he said. “They bring a certain level of discipline, focus, maturity and commitment. I have a tremendous respect for what they do.”