‘The luckiest guy in the world’: Aaron James was right at home as he became a Grambling Legend

Former basketball standout Aaron James will be honored this month as part of the fourth-annual Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame class. James, who joined the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year, lead the NCAA in scoring during the 1973-74 season with an astounding 32.1 points per game.

He’ll be be inducted at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 14, 2012, at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center on the Grambling State University campus, with a special reception for the new honorees to take place on Friday, July 13, at the Eddie G. Robinson Museum. The complete list of honorees also includes: Albert Lewis, football; Clyde Parquet, baseball; Jake Reed, football; Alphonse Dotson, football; Trumaine Johnson, football; Howard Willis, basketball; Wilbert Ellis, baseball and athletic administration; Bertram Lovell, track and field; LaChandra Leday Fenceroy, women’s basketball; Preston Powell, football; and Essex Johnson, football. For tickets or other information, contact Albert Dennis at albertdennis3@bellsouth.net or 318-261-0898.

James was twice named All-America, became a three-time all-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection and earned freshman of the year honors from the league in 1971, as teams coached by the innovative, tough-as-nails Fredrick C. Hobdy claimed back-to-back SWAC crowns between 1970-72. “I’ve never been around anyone else like that,” James says. “Coach Hobdy was ahead of his time. He came across as gruff and tough, but his bark was worse than his bite.”

In all, James scored 2,251 career points for the Tigers before becoming a first-round draft pick for his hometown team, the National Basketball Association’s New Orleans Jazz in 1974. “You know,” James says, “I tell people I must be the luckiest guy in the world. I had the opportunity to play Little League, junior high, high school, college and professional all in the great state of Louisiana.”

Even in the pros, he was known for his long-range scoring prowess, and the New Orleans Jazz radio play-by-play announcer quickly coined a memorable catch phase: “A.J. from the parking lot!” James would average 10.8 points per game (in the pre-three point basket era) over five seasons with the Jazz, shooting 48 percent and nabbing 4.1 rebounds per game.

After retiring from the NBA in 1979 and playing professionally overseas, the former Cohen High standout served as head coach and physical education instructor at Jarvis Christian College and later returned to his alma mater as head men’s basketball coach, assistant women’s basketball coach, assistant athletics director and, most recently, interim athletics director at Grambling. The respected Louisiana sportswriter Ron Brocato also recently named James to the third-team of his historic All-New Orleans basketball team.

Though wins were difficult to come by for his men’s basketball team between 1989-95, James has estimated that as many as 95 percent of his players graduated over that span — a focus that he says he learned while spending time with inaugural Grambling Legends inductees Hobdy and Eddie G. Robinson. “They always stressed being a productive citizen in America,” James says, “Those are the type of things that I tried to carry on.”

James has been involved in a number of organizations, including the NBA Retired Players Association, the Eddie G. Robinson Museum, the Bayou Classic organizing committee, Boy Scouts of America, the Louisiana Parks and Recreation Association, the Grambling faculty senate, and the Black Empowerment Apprenticeship Program.

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