Air Force Veteran’s Journey Leads Him to NCAA Basketball Tournament

March Madness is a time of year when basketball fervor is at its peak. Service members around the world are filling out their tournament brackets and hoping to win bragging rights that can provide a few smiles as they sweat their way through one more Afghan summer.

Florida State big man Bernard James was no different. During his six years of Air Force service, which included deployments to Iraq, Qatar and Afghanistan, the 6-foot-10 veteran spent time as a prison guard and a customs agent but never lost his passion for basketball. He’s now playing in the NCAA tournament after helping lead his third-seeded Seminoles to the ACC tournament title.

Air Force Veteran Bernard James

Road to Success

His road was not always one of success. He was cut from his high school basketball team as freshman and eventually dropped out school at the age of 16. Worried about his future, he turned to his stepfather, a seasoned military veteran, and decided to give the Armed Forces a shot. James worked hard and earned his GED at 17, joining the Air Force shortly after.

It was at the age of 23, while still serving in the Air Force, that an Atlantic Coast Conference referee saw him playing basketball in an intramural tournament in Las Vegas and thought he had the talent to play college basketball. The referee reached out to his coaching friends on James’ behalf and, soon enough, coaches came calling.

After two years at Tallahassee Community College, James made his way to the Seminoles by refining his game and mentoring the younger players. James is now a member of the ACC All-Defensive Team and has been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational in April where he will have a chance to earn an invitation to NBA fall camps.

Inspiring Others

James is proud of what he has accomplished and savors the opportunity he has to play big-time college basketball. He hopes his story will influence others to never give up, even when the odds seem stacked against them. He is on track to graduate this spring with a degree in economics and has high hopes to guide Florida State to a national championship in 2012.


Photo thanks to  megan.barton under creative commons license on Flickr.