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IMG Academy trained athlete drafted 33rd overall in NBA draft

NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, left, poses with Florida State's Bernard James, who was selected in the second round of the NBA draft.
NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, left, poses with Florida State's Bernard James, who was selected in the second round of the NBA draft.

However, this won't be James' first full-time job.

Prior to finding basketball, James completed a six-year term in the United States Air Force, serving three tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar. James enlisted in the Air Force when he was 17 years old and eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant.

In Iraq, he guarded thousands of detainees at Camp Bucca. In Qatar, he secured buildings and airplanes. In Afghanistan, he worked as military law enforcement. He once had a 40-millimeter round land 90 feet away from him, killing six detainees and wounding many more.

James describes his path to the NBA as "peculiar," and he knows he isn't your typical prospect. At 27 years old, James was literally a man among boys in the draft. He's by far the oldest player in the class and he is the oldest collegian selected in the past 20 years, surpassing Dikembe Mutumbo, who turned 25 years old one day after being picked in 1991. James is extremely unique, but he feels that his unconventional route to the NBA is what separates him from the other players drafted.

"I think there's a huge difference between me and other players, right down to my mindset and how I approach things every day," James told HOOPSWORLD. "A lot of these kids haven't seen a whole lot in their lives. For many of them, all they know is basketball. They've been playing since they were about eight years old and they don't realize what it's like in the real world, having a real job and working for $30,000 or $40,000 a year. I've definitely learned not to let a single day go to waste."

"I know how to be a professional, I'm disciplined and I'm going to work hard," James added. "I know how to be part of a team. I fill my role for the greater good of the group. I see the big picture. A lot of guys don't really have a grasp on that. They're only thinking about themselves and their game, rather than thinking about the big picture and the team. A lot of people are bred and trained from childhood to make it to this level, but I've had an entire life before this. Basketball came later on for me."

Growing up, James never envisioned himself as a future NBA player. Despite being one of the tallest kids in his grade, he didn't play basketball in middle school or high school. Instead, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father Darryl, who served 15 years in the Army and seven years in the Air Force.

"I grew up in a military family, so I had already experienced the regimented lifestyle and the traveling," James said. "For me, joining the military wasn't that big of a change. It was kind of a no-brainer for me."

It wasn't until James enlisted in the Air Force that he fell in love with basketball.

"The first time I picked up a ball was when I was 14 or 15 years old," James said. "I knew how to play, but I had never played competitively or anything. When I joined the military, I had a supervisor, Erick Dumas. On the first day of work, he asked me if I played basketball. I said, 'No.' He said, 'You do now.' "

"That night, I showed up to the intramural basketball game and had a bunch of blocks, dunks and rebounds," James said with a laugh. "We just destroyed the other team. All of the guys that I work with were congratulating me and they were so happy that I was playing with them. That kind of got me locked in, that's where it all started. After that, I would go to the gym to shoot and mess around with those guys. That's really how I started to develop."

Even after James started playing basketball regularly and taking the game seriously, he wasn't thinking about playing professionally. He just wanted to play at the college level so that he could get his degree and make his parents proud. After starring in a U.S. Armed Forces All-Star tournament in 2005, James turned heads. Leonard Hamilton, head coach at Florida State, was in Las Vegas for the tournament and he offered the big man a scholarship.

"The NBA wasn't even a thought for me," James said. "For me, I was just thinking about earning a scholarship and getting into college. I wanted to earn my degree. That was my main focus. That was my entire motivation up until I got to Florida State. The thought of playing in the NBA didn't come into play until after my first season with the Seminoles. Going into my senior year, that's when I realized that it could happen and I started focusing on making it to the NBA."

During his two-year stint with the Seminoles, James was outstanding. He led the Seminoles to the first ACC championship game in school history and to two appearances in the NCAA tournament. During his senior season, he averaged 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks with the Seminoles. He believes he'll have a similar impact in the NBA, outworking others and playing whatever role is needed.

"I know who I am as a basketball player," James said. "I'm not under the impression that I'm going to go out there and be Kobe Bryant for a team. I know I'm a hustle guy, an energy guy. I'm going to rebound, block shots and play defense well. That's my role at the NBA level. I know that and I'm happy with that. If you get a couple of points out of me, that'll be a bonus. I know I can contribute to a team."

While his maturity and life experiences give him an advantage over his peers, his age does not. At 27 years old, most players are reaching their prime, with their decline just around the corner. Draft analysts put his age into perspective by pointing out that Bernard James is just two months younger than LeBron James. However, James says teams shouldn't be worried about his age since he doesn't have many basketball miles on his body. What he lacks in youth, he makes up for in lack of wear and tear.

"My age is misleading," James said. "I don't have years and years of basketball on my body. I didn't play in middle school or high school. I didn't play years of AAU basketball. Some of these guys have played year-round and beat their bodies up. I've only been playing for 10 years. A lot of the guys in the draft have been playing longer than that. My body is going to hold up and I'll be able to play much later into my thirties than a lot of these other guys."

After months of training at the IMG Academy basketball program in Bradenton, Fla., and traveling across the country for individual workouts with NBA teams, James is glad he can go from being a prospect to being a rookie.

"This is just the next step," James said. "The work wouldn't be finished, it would just be beginning."

Bernard James is prepared to rise through the ranks all over again.