August 26, 2013

By: Alyssa Nadelman

NBRPA member Aaron James was recently named Athletic Director of his alma mater, Grambling State University. A native of Louisiana, James experienced the rare opportunity to play a vast majority of his basketball career in his home state with the old New Orleans Jazz. James was a prep All-American at New Orleans Cohen High School and then attended Grambling, where he was a 3-time All-Southwestern Athletic Conference pick. James was the SWAC MVP as a senior, leading the nation in scoring with a 32.1 average in 1973-74. Drafted in 1974 by the Jazz, James averaged 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and had 370 assists over the span of 356 games. After his retirement from the NBA, James served as Grambling’s Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach, Head Men’s Basketball Coach and Assistant Director of Athletics before being named AD. 

Q: While growing up, what players did you look up to?

Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin, Gary West, and Sam Jones

Q: What would you say was the overall highlight of your basketball career?

I don’t know if there’s one overall highlight. There are probably quite a few of them, but I think one of them I cherish that’s close to my heart is the only championship I ever won when I played in the Philippines. I think that’s an accomplishment I always look back on and say that was the one. Another big success I had not pertaining to basketball was when I graduated from college.  That was a great achievement for me. My father never saw me play basketball in high school or college. My mother was always there, but my father told me if you graduate from college, I’ll be there and he was right there at that time. So I think that was a huge accomplishment for me.

Q: How does it feel to be named the Athletic Director of your alma mater, Grambling State University?

It’s a great feeling, because I’ve been around here all my life. Grambling has been terrific to my family and me. My kids received degrees here, so Grambling is very dear to me. Having the opportunity to come back and be in a position where I can help make a legacy here is just a tremendous feeling for me.

Q: What aspects of your new title as Athletic Director excite you the most?

Well, I don’t know if there’s one specific thing that excites me the most. I think one thing is that I’ve set some goals for myself that I would like to try and achieve this first year. One of my goals is getting all of our units in good standings with APR. Another would be getting a student athletes fund here. We tried to pass one last year and it failed. So I think one of things that we’re going to accomplish this year is pass the student athlete’s fund, which would be a big plus for our budget. Also, fundraising is going to be a main point. We need some outside sources because the way the state of Louisiana is going they’re cutting our aid every year so we need to bring in some outside funds.

Q: How did you get started in college athletics?

I started off at Jarvis Christian College as Head Basketball Coach for the men and I was also a physical education instructor. I stayed there for two years, then a job opportunity became available at Grambling for the Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach. I took the job here and I must have stayed three to four years in that capacity. Then, I was promoted to Head Men’s Basketball Coach and I stayed in that position for six to seven years. After which, I became Assistant Athletic Director and I also worked in development. From there I even taught classes as an assistant professor. Next, I started working as Assistant Athletic Director again. Soon after, I became Interim Athletic Director and I’ve been interim two different times. This was the last time before they made my title permanent.

Q: You’ve played a large role in GSU’S athletics program following your NBA career, has the role of Athletic Director always been a goal of yours?

Yeah, this is now my 27th year I’ve been here. It wasn’t a goal of mine before I was coaching, because I really wanted to coach early in life. Then after I got a taste of it and enjoyed the coaching part of it, I looked around and thought about the administrative aspect. One thing I did always know was that I wanted to be a part of athletics in some capacity. So after experiencing the administration part of it I thought I could do a fairly decent job in that area.

Q: Besides being named GSU’s athletic director, what else have you been up to these days?

I have two kids. One of is living in New Orleans and the other in Arlington, Texas. Both of them work in social security offices for the federal government. My wife, Abigail, is the Director of the Title One program in Ruston, Louisiana. So basically we live an even keel life.