James takes strange journey

Jerome Keith James was a name many were unfamiliar with, until a career year in the 2004-2005 NBA season catapulted him into the limelight.

The 7-1 center, known to have dunked on an 11-foot rim, began his NBA career as a second-round draft pick, backup center for the Sacramento Kings in the 1998-1999 season, but a sub-par performance and a season-ending injury the following year temporarily ended his NBA career and forced him to improve on his game playing in Europe and later for the Harlem Globetrotters. What many people may not know is that James’ honed his basketball skills as a Florida A&M University Rattler.

James did not begin playing organized basketball until enrolling at FAMU. Although he only played college basketball for three years (he was ineligible in his first,) James was named to the All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first team in both his junior and senior seasons, and led the NCAA Division I-A in blocks shots (4.63bpg) as a senior.

The pre-law major finished his college career ranked as the 15th all-time in NCAA history with 363 blocked shots. He averaged 16.0 points-per-game, 9.2 rebounds-per-game, 4.48 blocks-per-game, with a .495 shooting percentage in a total of 81 games. He also finished his college career ranked 16th among FAMU’s all-time scorers (1292points) and seventh all-time in rebounding (743.)

Mickey Clayton, interim director of the Office of Student Union and Activities and former coach of James, said James was well-liked on campus.

“Jerome was a guy that everybody liked being around. People gravitated toward him because of his personlity and nature.”

After playing for three European league teams, James’ signed with the Seattle Supersonics in 2001 and led the team in blocks for two straight seasons.His career took off in the 2004-2005 season where he led the team in blocks for the third straight season and played in a career 80 games, capping it with a stellar performance in the first round of the playoffs. His 17.2 points and 9.4 rebounds-per-game, helped send off his former team, the Sacramento Kings, in the first round of the playoffs.

James’ signed with the New York Knicks for five years and 29 million in 2005, as a free agent player. Knicks president of basketball operations, and NBA legend Isiah Thomas, sang his praises at his signing day contract.

“When I look at Jerome, the first thing I see is his shot-blocking ability, presence, and ability to clog up the middle,” Thomas said. “We needed a space eater. We also needed some intimidation in the middle. He provides all of that.”

James foresees many more productive years in the NBA.

“I think I’ve only barely scratched the surface of my potential so far. I’m still learning,” he said.

James also expressed his joy on playing for the Knicks and coach Larry Brown.

“In the past I’ve been very comfortable in a supporting role, but I want to hold myself more accountable not only to the game of basketball,” said James

Contact Wandoo Makurdi at famuansports@hotmail.com