Tamara James home for holidays to get number retired

Tamara James spent most of December in a country where she ``forgot'' it was Christmas season, and will endure New Year's Eve stuck on a plane flying halfway around the world.

But there is one celebration she won't miss.

James, now a pro basketball star in Israel, will be showered with love and appreciation on Thursday as the University of Miami will lift her No. 2 jersey up to the rafters.

James' jersey will be the third retired in the history of the Hurricanes' women's basketball program, joining Maria Rivera (1984-1988) and Frances Savage (1988-1992).

``It hasn't quite hit home yet,'' said James, a 5-9 guard and the Canes' all-time leading scorer. ``Me? Tamara James? Wow.''

James, who will fly back to Israel on Friday, will be honored in between the Canes' 6 p.m. men's game against Pepperdine and the women's 8 p.m. matchup vs. Morgan State.

``I'm thrilled for Tamara,'' Miami coach Katie Meier said. ``I've been waiting for this moment to recognize a young lady who chose to stay at home and change the face of the UM program.''

Meier said she hoped ``all of South Florida will come out to celebrate this incredible young woman.''

James' friends and family will certainly do their part. Her parents, grandmother, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, close friends and about 100 members of her church have promised to attend.

Missing will be her boyfriend -- who also plays basketball in Israel but does not get a Christmas break -- and the coaches and players at South Broward High, her alma mater.

``I'm upset about it, but [South Broward] has a tournament out of town,'' James said. ``So I understand.''

South Broward is where James first rose to prominence, leading the Bulldogs to three state titles (2000-2002).

James became an immediate hit at UM, leading the Big East in scoring (21.0) as a freshman. She went on to earn first-team honors in the Big East and ACC before the Washington Mystics made her the eighth pick of the 2006 WNBA Draft.

That's when James faced the biggest obstacle of her career. As a rookie, she got just 7.4 minutes per game from coach Richie Adubato and averaged only 2.7 points. The numbers improved slightly the next season -- 12.9 minutes and 5.4 points.

But it was her last hurrah in the WNBA.

``I'm pretty sure I'm done with the WNBA,'' James said. ``I didn't have the best experience, but I'm fine with that.''

James believes her WNBA career was brief because she struggled to adjust from college star to pro reserve.

``I sat the bench my whole rookie year,'' James said. ``That killed my spirits and made me question myself. Issues with the coach made me not want to be there. I handled myself unprofessionally.

``My second year, I had a pretty decent season. But in my third year, when it came down to keeping me or someone else, my past came back, and I paid for it.''

Israel has been much kinder to James. In five games with Maccabi Ashdod this season, she is averaging 20.8 points and 9.0 rebounds, making 54.7 percent of her shots.

James said the competition in the WNBA is tougher than overseas because there are more Americans. But even in Israel, she is routinely matched up against other well-established Americans.

Basketball aside, she is enjoying her experience in Israel.

``I live three minutes from the beach -- you can see it from my apartment,'' said James, who added that the average temperature is about 72 degrees. ``Pretty much everyone speaks English. The food is OK, but I love to cook, so it doesn't really matter.

``There is a lot of support for women's basketball here. It's different than in America. Over here, they are really into the game.''

James said she had security concerns when she decided to play in Israel. Her perception of the country was ``constant war,'' but she said she was wrong and hasn't had any scary incidents.

Christmas in Israel, however, has been a adjustment for James, who said she has seen few if any decorations to mark the event.
``I've seen maybe two Christmas trees in a store,'' she said.

James, 26, said she wants to play professionally for two or three more years before moving on. A theater major, she has her degree from UM, but she's not sure what's next.

``Last summer, I had a financing job in Dania Beach,'' she said. ``I liked it a lot, but I'm not sure I'm ready for a 9-to-5 job.''

One thing she is ready for is Thursday night.

``I'm humbled,'' she said of the ceremony. ``And I'm grateful.''

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