- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
None of the questions came as a surprise.
Experience has taught Bernard James plenty, and no NBA general manager or scout was going to unearth a flaw in his game he hadn't already considered.
"I kind of went in knowing what they'd ask and the things they'd focus on about me and the things I don't do well," James said. "I wasn't really surprised by anything and I had really good answers to all the questions."
At 27 and a veteran of three tours in the Middle East as a member of the United States Air Force, James has had time to consider all that he does well, and he has worked tirelessly to improve the flaws.
The truth, however, is that the goal of playing in the NBA only seemed possible within the last year, when it became clear his game had improved enough that coaches and scouts at the next level were taking notice.
Of course, there were obvious hurdles.
James was older than virtually any other draft prospect, and he knew that could be an issue. So as he bounced from city to city on a whirlwind tour of workouts for various NBA teams -- 12 in all -- he had an answer prepared.
"I'm 27 but I haven't been playing basketball as long as most of the guys in the draft," James said. "I don't have all that wear and tear on my body. I'll be able to play later into my 30s than most of these guys will be able to. My career will be a little shorter than theirs but not as much as my age difference is."
In fact, rather than hide from the obvious critique, James has used it as a selling point.
"I try to highlight the fact that I am 27, I've been in the military and I'm mature," James said. "I'm not a snot-nosed kid who's going to go buck wild as soon as he gets the money. I'm the person I'm going to be whether I get the money or not. I'm going to work hard and perfect my craft."
He might be older, but James' skill set remains a bit raw, too.
His two years at Florida State proved James could take a big leap forward -- he improved by seven minutes, 2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game from his junior to senior seasons -- but he admits there's still far more work to be done.
"I'm a good defender, a good rebounder, a good shot-blocker," he said. "My offense needs work, and I need to gain about 10 to 20 pounds."
James had prepared for these critiques, too.
His preparation for the draft has included refining his offensive skill set, and he's already added back on most of the weight he lost during the 2011-12 season.
James said he's about 235 pounds, but once the draft is done and he can begin working full-time as a professional, adding another 15 to 20 shouldn't be a problem.
"At 250, I think that'll be my sweet spot where I don't slow down at all and I'll still be able to jump as high as I need to," he said. "Just added strength."
The pre-draft process hasn't been painless. The lonely flights from one city to the next and the long days waiting for physicals and doctor visits are the price to be paid for gaining access to such an elite club.
None of that came as a surprise either.
Today marks the end of the journey, however, and a few surprises remain in store.
James insists he has enjoyed every city he has visited, and he's not playing favorites when it comes to which team he hopes will select him in tonight's draft -- likely in the second round.
"And I'm sure if I land with one I didn't work out with -- which I've heard happens a lot -- I'm sure I'll be happy there," he said. "I just want to play basketball."
It has taken James a little longer to come to that conclusion than most of his peers in tonight's draft, but his path to the NBA has prepared him for what's ahead.
So tonight should represent another goal achieved, James said, but it will hardly be the final step.
"This is what I've worked for," James said. "Once I get in, my goal will be to move up on the list -- sixth man, starter, all-star. I'm going to keep setting goals, and when I reach them, I'll set another goal higher."
15hEthan Sherwood Strauss