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Boys' Player of the Week : James Stars in New Role at Valencia

February 09, 1988|CHRIS FOSTER | Times Staff Writer

Ray Rodriguez, Valencia High School basketball coach, works with what he's got.

And right now, he has Bernie James.

"I projected that we would be a guard-oriented team this year," Rodriguez said. "We would have to do most of our scoring from the outside."

And Valencia's best outside shooter was James, a 6-foot 2-inch senior guard.

"Coach Rodriguez told me before the season that I would be the key offensive player this year," said James, The Times' player of the week. "He has been telling me that all year. It can put a lot of pressure on a player, but I liked it."

James has succeeded in his new role. He is averaging 21 points per game and has Valencia close to a Southern Section 3-A playoff berth.

Last week, James scored 38 points in two games, including 23 in Valencia's 58-47 victory over Magnolia that moved the Tigers into a second-place tie with Brea-Olinda in the Orange League.

"When it's crunch time, we go to Bernie," Rodriguez said. "It's a hard thing to burden a kid with."

Last season, James' burden was a lot lighter.

With 6-5 Dennis Burbank at center, Valencia played a power game. James' first responsibility was to look inside.

As Burbank went, so went the Tigers.

It was an effective system. Burbank averaged 19 points per game and the Tigers shared the league title with Brea and Magnolia.

Although Burbank got the headlines, James did his share. He averaged 12 points and was the outside shooting threat who kept opposing teams from denying Burbank the ball.

"If they collapsed the defense on Dennis, Bernie was the kid that had to hit two or three outside shots to bring the zone back out," Rodriguez said.

When Burbank graduated, James knew his style would have to change.

"Last year, my first option was to look inside for the big man, but we weren't going to have a big man to look for this year," James said. "We were going to play a faster paced game, with more guard penetration. I was going to have to look for my shot more."

During the summer, James attended the Snow Valley basketball camp. His ballhandling and defense skills improved and he became more confident at shooting.

When the season began, he filled the void and then some.

"At the start of last year, we didn't feel that Dennis would be the player to carry us," Rodriguez said. "This year, we knew Bernie was the guy who would make us go. And if you look at the games he has shot a low percentage, those are the games in which we struggled."

James enjoys his role, even if it means the extra pressure.

"It's made me perform better," he said. "The more you expect out of yourself, the better you're going to play. I set expectations very high."

Bernie James

Valencia High School

Position: Guard

Height, Weight, Class: 6-2, 165, Sr.

Last Week: Scored 38 points, including 23 in Valencia's 58-47 Orange League victory over Magnolia, which moved the Tigers into a second-place tie with Brea-Olinda.

Season: James is averaging 20.2 points.

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