Layoff doesn#039;t bother James

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 10, 2003

TRENTON, N.J. -- Sitting out more than a week didn't diminish LeBron James' basketball skills, but the forced time off seemed to make the 18-year-old a little wiser about potential off-the-court problems.

Minutes after scoring a career-high 52 points in an amazing display of talent in the 78-52 victory over Westchester of Los Angeles by St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio, James was stopped outside the interview room and handed an award.

After being told it was a player of the year award and admiring it for a few seconds, James alluded to the microscope under which he now lives his life -- both on and off the court. He said he had better not keep the trophy, or else he might not be playing next week.

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''I just feel like LeBron James has got a big bull's-eye on him,'' James said minutes earlier. ''I just have to stay focused and do the right things and play the right basketball.''

James' play in the Prime Time Shootout -- his first action since an Ohio judge restored his high school eligibility Wednesday -- was spectacular, and it wasn't just the point total that had the sellout crowd of 8,500 on its feet.

It was the way James converted 21 of 34 shots from the field. The 6-foot-8 senior hit long jumpers, slammed home weak-side rebounds, dribbled the length of the court for layups and made steals at halfcourt capped with dunks that started with foul-line takeoffs.

It was everything one would expect from the player predicted to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

After two consecutive steals and dunks, James ran the length of the court and had a ball boy jump into his arms after a frustrated Westchester called a time out. The crowd loved it.

''It would have been nice if it was 7-on-5,'' Westchester coach Ed Azzam said. ''He was what I was hoping not to see.''

Azzam came close to avoiding it. The Ohio High School Athletic Association revoked James' eligibility two weeks ago for accepting two jerseys valued at $845 from a clothing store.

The ruling came four days after the association decided that James did not compromise his amateur status by receiving a $50,000 Hummer from his mother as a birthday present.

James had to go to court this week to get back his eligibility, and he returned to the court with something to prove.

''If you remember earlier this year after the Hummer incident, I came back and scored 50,'' James said. ''This time I got 52. If something happens again, I am going to score 52 points again.''

St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce obviously enjoyed having James back in the lineup.

In the one game James missed after his eligibility was taken away, the Fighting Irish (15-1) struggled to a one-point victory.

''Once LeBron gets on a roll like that, he's unstoppable,'' Joyce said. ''You just have to sit back and let him go.''