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 Former Tallahassee Community College men’s basketball standout Bernard James picked by Cleveland Cavaliers, traded to Dallas Mavericks in 2012 NBA Draft

Updated: June 29, 12:16 a.m.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have traded their 24th pick  (Jared Cunningham), 33rd pick (Bernard James) and 34th pick (Jae Crowder) to the Dallas Mavericks for Tyler Zellner.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (June 28, 2012) – “With the 33rd pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Bernard James of Florida State University,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday evening. With those words, James’ unlikely journey from high school dropout to military policeman to NBA draft pick, a story that includes a decorated two-year career at Tallahassee Community College, was complete. 

The Cavaliers drafted James with the third pick of the second round, although it is believed James will soon become a Dallas Maverick, as a result of a trade between the two teams earlier in the evening. 

James is the first former TCC Eagle to be selected in the NBA Draft.

A native of Savannah, Ga., James suited up for coach Eddie Barnes’ Eagles from 2008-10. Following his two years at TCC, James moved down Pensacola Street and helped FSU to back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths and the 2012 ACC Tournament Championship. 

After dropping out of Savannah’s Windsor Forest High School, James earned a GED diploma, enlisted in the United States Air Force and was in basic training at age 17. His six-year stint in the Air Force included three 10-and-a-half month stays overseas, one of which was accompanied by a near death experience while guarding Iraqi detainees at what was once the largest U.S. military prison in Iraq. 

While serving his country, James also reintroduced himself to the game of basketball. Though raw, his play began to catch the attention of Division I programs, including Florida State and head coach Leonard Hamilton. 

First, however, James enrolled at Tallahassee Community College in August 2008, just one month after officially becoming a retired military officer. He stepped onto TCC’s campus as a virtual unknown, outside of Barnes and Hamilton. By the time James graduated from Tallahassee in 2010, his unique story and on-the-court accomplishments were garnering national attention. 

As a freshman, James averaged 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in 21 contests. He was even better in the rugged Panhandle Conference, posting 15.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Those numbers earned him first-team All-Panhandle Conference honors by the league coaches and media while the latter also voted him Freshman of the Year. 

James’ success as a rookie led to a pair of preseason honors the following season. The National Junior College Athletic Association named him a second-team preseason All-American while the Sporting News  tabbed him a second-team Super Sophomore. 

James lived up to the hype, averaging a double-double, 14.2 points and 10.5 rebounds, in 31 games. He was again equally impressive during the 12-game league schedule, averaging 13.7 points and 11.4 rebounds and was a repeat first-team All-Panhandle Conference pick by the league coaches and media. He also earned All-Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA)/NJCAA Region VIII honors that season. 

James’ name dots the Tallahassee record books – he posted two of the ten best shooting percentages in school history, .627 (5th) as a freshman and .617 (8th) as a sophomore. Overall, his .624 field goal percentage is second only to Paul McPherson, who enjoyed a brief stint with the Phoenix Suns in 2000-01. 

He also ended his Tallahassee career second all-time in rebounds (512) and blocks (131). 

James’ last game at TCC came in the 2010 FCSAA/NJCAA Region VIII Championship Game. Though he and his teammates fell one victory short of a trip to the NJCAA Tournament, his last game in an Eagle uniform was far from his last game in Tallahassee. 

Having signed with Florida State during the 2009 fall signing period, James graduated from TCC in June 2010 then relocated – two miles away – to Florida State, where he continued to thrive. 

James led the Seminoles in rebounds (201) and blocks (82) in 2010-11, helping them to a Sweet 16 berth. In 2011-12, he averaged 10.8 points and 8.1 rebounds, again leading the team in rebounds (283) and blocks (82). 

During his college career, which spanned 121 games, James averaged 11.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor. 

Although not invited to the NBA Draft Green Room, James flew to Newark, N.J., for the event and was accompanied by seven family members. When his name was called, he took his rightful place on the stage next to Silver. 

NBA, meet Bernard James!

What they’re saying about Bernard James 

“Any time you have a player that has the opportunity to be drafted, it’s definitely something that your program, as a whole, is excited about. We consider ourselves to have a family atmosphere (at TCC) and try to develop individuals as a whole and not just as a basketball player. Bernard has made us very proud, not just because of the possibility of being drafted (into the NBA), but also the way he has carried himself as a student and as an individual. To see a young man who has served our country now be able to ‘live the dream’ is special, and we all wish him the best in the upcoming years as a player and as a person.” 

Eddie Barnes, head men’s basketball coach, Tallahassee Community College  

“Bernard was a rising sophomore during my first year (at TCC). I had heard the stories that surrounded him and was quite impressed without having ever met him. When I finally got the chance to meet and get to know Bernard, I quickly learned that his teammates respected him on a whole different level and that he was a proven leader. His actions spoke just as loud, if not louder, than his words. He has an unbelievable work ethic, the best I have ever seen throughout my coaching career. I have no doubt that his background, experiences and character will lead him to do great things in his future endeavors.” 

Daniel Batson, assistant men’s basketball coach, Tallahassee Community College  

“Bernard was one of the hardest-working and most humble individuals I’ve worked with during my tenure (at TCC). Although he had a ton of talent, he was always ready and willing to get in the gym and work. Having coached him for two years, then watching his two years at Florida State, you can see that he’s improving every day but still hasn’t hit his peak. He soaks everything up, just gets better and better and he’ll have a great understanding of what he’s being taught (in the NBA). I’m extremely happy for him and can’t think of anyone who deserves the opportunity more than Bernard.” 

T.J. Braxton, assistant men’s basketball coach, Tallahassee Community College  

“Bernard epitomizes what it means to be a ‘student-athlete’ and is symbolic of our mission, both at Tallahassee Community College and in the National Junior College Athletic Association. He may have taken an unconventional route to reach this stage in life, both personally and professionally, but that’s part of what makes Bernard such a compelling and likeable individual. He has used all of his life experiences to develop self-discipline, character and a work ethic that is unmatched by his peers. One thing I ask of our student-athletes is to be an ambassador for the College. Bernard honored that request during his two years with the Eagles and has continued to do so, even after graduating from Tallahassee Community College. This is a great moment for Bernard and his family, and I couldn’t be happier for him.” 

Rob Chaney, athletic director, Tallahassee Community College  

“Bernard is one of the great draft stories in years. Based on what I have seen and, more importantly, heard from others, his presence alone will make a team better. His play will make them tougher and smarter. This could become more than just a draft story.”

Scott Howard-Cooper, columnist

“I remember the first time I met ‘BJ’ - he had just driven in from California after his discharge from the Air Force. He was easy to engage in conversation, so we talked about being from Savannah, his military service and the fact that he was ready to get his college degree. What I didn’t know that day is that I was, by his own admission, talking to someone who, just a few years earlier, was less comfortable in that setting. I saw many things in Bernard over the next two years, but two always stood out. First, he was someone who was comfortable in a conversation about current events with a 45-year old and the next minute could be equally as comfortable talking with his 19- and 20-year old teammates about the latest video game they were playing. The second thing that stood out was his laid back personality off the court, with a little dry humor. A couple of years ago, I had just purchased my first smart phone. BJ saw me and in mid conversation says, ‘I see you finally made it to the 21th century,’ and then went back to the conversation. He has a presence about himself that makes you want to sit down on the bench next to him and just talk.” 

Greg Rowland, color commentator, TCC Basketball

“Bernard, better known to us as BJ, depicts the ideal of what it means to be a student-athlete. His accomplishments in the classroom, as well as on the court, reflect his work ethic, commitment and ability to balance multiple responsibilities. He has demonstrated what life can be like when you focus on more than just immediate gratification. More importantly is who BJ is as a person—his personal character. His integrity, kindness, and maturity make him a role model for today’s young people. Because of him, I just might become a fan of the NBA!  I definitely will watch him every chance I get.” 

Sheri Rowland, Dean of Enrollment Management, Tallahassee Community College

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