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FSU's James, ex-airman, returns to familiar ground

“I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone into the military,” says Florida State’s Bernard James, who served in the Air Force. James helped lead FSU into the Sweet 16 with a win over Notre Dame and Tyrone Nash, left, on Sunday.

Associated Press

“I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone into the military,” says Florida State’s Bernard James, who served in the Air Force. James helped lead FSU into the Sweet 16 with a win over Notre Dame and Tyrone Nash, left, on Sunday.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State's Bernard James is heading back to San Antonio, Texas, but he's in a different uniform this time.

James went through basic training and attended military police and leadership schools at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He spent about six months of his six-year enlistment there.

Now the 6-foot-10, 245-pound shot-blocking southpaw is returning with the Seminoles (23-10) to meet Virginia Commonwealth (26-11) on Friday night in the NCAA Tournament.

"I really feel honored to be in this position to be representing the Air Force and the military in general," James said. "It's a huge part of my life. I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gone into the military."

FSU is happy to have him.

In the Seminoles' two tournament wins last weekend in Chicago, James scored 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds and had six blocks in 46 minutes.

In the absence of scoring and rebounding leader Chris Singleton to a foot injury, James has led the team in those categories in addition to his dominating defensive presence.

James' 77 blocks are second best for any Seminole in a season. Rodney Dobard had 111 blocks for FSU's last Sweet 16 club in 1993. And James has done it despite averaging about 21 minutes a game.

"He's always had the potential to take over a game," said junior G Luke Loucks, a former Clearwater High standout. "And he's still learning a lot about being a post player."

James, who turned 26 last month, won a starting job in late December after Xavier Gibson was injured in a holiday tournament in Hawaii. Since then, James has been steady, if not brilliant at times.

"He's still learning," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.

Service experience helps James keep things in perspective.

"You end up in some tough situations and some dangerous situations, but the people and camaraderie, the bonds you form just having a common goal," James said. "It's really a lot like basketball, being on a good team. The Air Force is a much bigger team."

Ex-Sickles star Henson coming up big for UNC

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina senior Daniel Bolick had a feeling, with 7.4 seconds left Sunday, that John Henson was in position to make a game-changing inbounds deflection.

One of Bolick's practice tasks is to try to inbound past the 6-10 forward with an 88-inch wingspan.

"The first two weeks of practice, he probably deflected 80 percent of all of my inbounds passes," the 5-10 Bolick said. "I had to develop a few tricks to get past him … but it's a hard thing to really scout for, because you really don't know how much room he can cover until you experience it a couple of times."

Washington F Justin Holiday sure didn't. The Huskies trailed 84-83 and were trying to throw the ball in from the baseline, but the 6-6 senior couldn't get it past Henson. The sophomore and former Sickles High standout instead deflected it to Dexter Strickland, who was fouled and hit two free throws. The Tar Heels (28-7) won 86-83 and face Marquette (22-14) on Friday.

Henson, the ACC's defensive player of the year, said he never guarded inbounds passes until college, when coach Roy Williams put him in that role.

"Sometimes in practice, Coach says, 'C'mon, John — get a tip,' " said Henson, who also averages 10.1 rebounds per game. "I know it's important, so it's something I try to get."

No living in past: Steve Fisher is living for the moment, just like his San Diego State Aztecs.

Although he has a long resume that features a national title at Michigan in 1989, Fisher is excited to have the Aztecs in the Round of 16 for the first time.

As the Aztecs (34-2) prepare to meet Connecticut (28-9) on Thursday, Fisher could tell his players all sorts of postseason stories. But will he?

"Not from me, no," said Fisher, 65. "I'm long past that era."

A dozen seasons into his San Diego State tenure, he's helping to write a new chapter at a school with little hoops history. The Aztecs beat Northern Colorado for their first tournament win in seven tries. Two days later, before a double-overtime win against Temple, Fisher received a lapel pin from tournament officials.

"As I said on Saturday, it's been 17 years since I put a pin on for the second round," he said. "And it felt good."

More time for Blue Devil: Duke PG Kyrie Irving will play "significant minutes" against Arizona (29-7) on Thursday, coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Irving will not start but is ahead of schedule in his return from a right toe injury that cost him most of his freshman season. He missed 3½ months but came off the bench in both of the top-seeded Blue Devils' tournament games.

The Blue Devils (32-4) are "good with who we're starting," Krzyzewski said.

NCAA Tournament Round of 16

Region semifinals and finals Semifinals Championship Semifinals Region semifinals and finals
EAST Newark, N.J. 1. Ohio State 1. Kansas SOUTHWEST San Antonio, Texas
9:45 Friday, Ch. 10 FINAL FOUR:

RELIANT STADIUM,

HOUSTON

7:27 Friday, TBS
4. Kentucky 12. Richmond
Sunday, Ch. 10 Sunday, Ch. 10
11. Marquette 11. VCU
7:15 Friday, Ch. 10 9:57 Friday, TBS
2. North Carolina April 2, Ch. 10 10. Florida State
April 4, Ch. 10 April 2, Ch. 10
WEST Anaheim 1. Duke 8. Butler SOUTHEAST New Orleans
9:45 Thursday, Ch. 10 9:57 Thursday, TBS
5. Arizona 4. Wisconsin
Saturday, Ch. 10 Saturday, Ch. 10
3. Connecticut 3. BYU
7:15 Thursday, Ch. 10 7:27 Thursday, TBS
2. San Diego State 2. Florida

FSU's James, ex-airman, returns to familiar ground 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 9:51pm]
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