By Rory Sharrock
The game of basketball is adored all over the world, so it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Jermaine Barnes, 25, of Morrow that he'd travel across the globe and back just to satisfy his hoop love jones.
This former Southern Crescent baller has his passport filled with rim shot stamps from his participation in the Japanese Basketball League as a member of the Proline Kings.
Now, after a successful stint in the Far East, during which he recently dropped 63 points in the JBL championship game and was named to the All-Japan Team, Barnes has returned stateside with the hopes of joining the Arizona Rhinos of the American Basketball Association.
Barnes has logged thousands of miles playing on various courts, but his journey of dedication, sacrifice and desire -three of the main cells encoded in the DNA of every player - has fueled his fire to achieve greatness while helping others along the way.
As a high school student-athlete, he scorched the nets throughout Clayton County for Jay Livingston's Morrow Mustangs. Although his basketball skills caught the eyes of Division I scouts, his grades fell short of their requirements and he was forced to sign at a junior college.
After graduating from Morrow, he enrolled at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College in Tifton to compete with the Stallions.
Once his studies were complete, he transferred to Atlanta Christian College, which is an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)-affiliated school.
As a collegiate senior, Barnes was a dominating scorer, averaging 18 points per game. During this period, he was discovered by international scouts who were interested in his services.
It was a huge leap of faith to travel far away, not only from his family, but his country, however, he realized this was a lifetime opportunity that might not present itself again, so in August 2006, he quickly boarded a plane for the port city of Nagoya, Japan, located two hours outside Tokyo.
Once he arrived overseas, it didn't take long for him to be overwhelmed by the culture shock of his new surroundings.
Everything was different from the food and fashion, to traffic and his living quarters as adjusted to being American-born athlete on a Japanese-speaking team.
"Japanese people are disciplined. They never sway from the rules," said Barnes. "The players are very disciplined too. They're like robots. In America, if you're the star of your college team, you're creative. If the game's on the line, you're taking the shot. For them, it's ABC- you follow the rules. They don't sway from the plan. I had to have a translator. The coach would tell them to give me the ball and move out the way."
During his two-year residency in Japan, Barnes progressed as a man and an athlete. He also witnessed an increase in his salary, going from $500 a month while living in a small apartment, to $1,500 monthly with a home and Internet access.
Although he fell short of his team goals of winning a championship, his personal accolades were impressive and he once again caught the attention of basketball scouts. This time, it was for job closer to home, at least in terms of mileage.
Barnes, who has since returned back to Clayton County and works at the Virginia Gray Recreation Center in Riverdale, is headed westward today to meet with the Arizona Rhinos to discuss a potential contract offer sheet.
With so much on his plate, from a pending move to Arizona, to possibly returning back to Japan to compete in a higher division of the JBL, one could easily excuse Barnes spending his free time in isolation.
However, that's far from the case as he works closely with the county's youths, teaching them the importance of education as well as the dangers of crime and drug abuse.
He plans to take his community involvement to a higher level this summer by hosting a basketball tournament, which is aptly titled the Jermaine Barnes International Classic July 14-18.
This event will feature international and college scouts from all levels of play as well as various speakers that will inform students about improving their status beyond basketball.
"Every kid can't go Division I, so I have 50 scouts from all levels to come watch these kids. My goal isn't for them to play basketball, it's for them to go to college to get a free education. You use your talents that God gave you to move up in life. Get a degree so you can be somebody and not be on the street. I grew up in that surrounding and you can take a different route," he said.
Of course he'd love to play in the NBA, however, should he fall short of this goal, he wants to continue to work with children and athletics.
Barnes hopes to become a high school coach at Morrow whenever Livingston decides to step down.