Although Nate James graduated in 2001 with a National Championship, he has struggled to mimic the same level of success in his professional career. This past week, however, the former Duke captain found himself back in Cameron Indoor Stadium on a quest to make his first NBA regular season roster.
The Philadelphia 76ers signed James to a free agent contract Oct. 4th, and he competed at their training camp in Durham with hopes of making the team.
“He’s a talented player, he has a great career [ahead],” said Philadelphia head coach Jim O’Brien after the 76ers beat the Washington Wizards in an exhibition game Tuesday night. “He had a strong training camp for us.”
Although he might still be a long shot to make the 76ers squad, scoring only six points in 10 minutes Tuesday, James is taking advice he learned from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski as a college player to “run your own race.” James has focused on making himself a better player without comparing himself to others.
“I’m just looking forward to improving and trying to make it,” said James, who has played in several international leagues over the past three years. “[I’m] trying to get the looks and get the coaching on my side and have the confidence in me to try and stick it.”
His journey to the NBA began after his senior season when James participated in summer leagues with both the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings, but neither squad invited the undrafted player to its training camp. He was also waived from the Fayetteville, N.C., Patriots of the National Basketball Developmental League before the season began. James decided to take a year off to allow a nagging back injury to heal and give himself the opportunity to strengthen his relationship with family and friends.
“I was worried about my health and taking care of that, and listening to my body and what God was trying to tell me, to take time off and to take a break and take care of myself,” James said. “So taking the year off really helped me develop a passion to get back out there to start working to compete. It was a very important part of my life.”
Following his one-year absence, James played for the Carolinas Basketball League’s Hickory Nutz, earning MVP honors during the 2002-2003 season.
“It was a situation where I was given the opportunity to run up and down with some guys,” James said of his CBL days. “So that kind of helped me, propelled me to some of the gigs I got overseas.”
The Detroit, Mich., native joined best friend and former Duke teammate Chris Carrawell and fellow Blue Devil alum Ricky Price on Sta. Lucia in the Philippine Basketball Association.
After a brief stint playing for the Angers in France, James suited up for Kaposvar in Hungary, helping the team win the Hungarian Cup in 2004. Former Blue Devil Casey Sanders joined James on that championship squad.
The man who became the first player to win five straight ACC regular season titles came full circle Tuesday night, when he dressed in the same locker room he inhabited as a Duke player from 1996-2001. This time, however, he was surrounded by high school idols like Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson and “Big Nasty” Corliss Williamson, as well as perennial All-Star Allen Iverson.
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“Anybody who ever dribbled a basketball or who had aspirations to play, whether it be going to college and playing there, you want to make a team,” James said. “You’re finally given an opportunity, and it’s kind of like you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to pray and work your butt off to get to the other end. And I think that’s what I’m doing now.”