Wheeler grad Florence scores big at Mercer

Wheeler High School coach Doug Lipscomb knew that way back when, and he's not surprised that it's the same now.

"[James] is a good kid, a good student, quiet and humble," Lipscomb said. "Let me tell you something. He wrote a letter saying how much he appreciated everything we had done for him. That almost never happens."

While Florence, a 6-foot-1 guard, prefers to shun the limelight, his performance at Mercer has screamed success. On Dec. 29, Florence became Mercer's all-time scoring leader, passing Sam Mitchell's record of 1,986 points that had stood for more than 25 years.

Although Florence had no idea of the caliber of Mitchell's playing career -- Mitchell played in the NBA for 13 seasons with the Timberwolves and Pacers -- Florence knew that Mitchell had been an NBA coach.

"That was one of [Mercer's] recruiting pitches," Florence said, referring to Mitchell's accomplishments and the chance of playing professional basketball.

Florence has posted the stats to indicate he could play in the NBA. He is averaging 19.4 points, 5.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game and has made 42.4 percent of his field goals and 72.9 percent of his free throws..

He also has shown he can play against high-caliber competition. Florence scored a career-high 40 points against Georgia Tech and 24 points against Alabama.

He won a state Class AAAAA championship at Wheeler. He's a two-time first-team All-Atlantic Sun guard. And there's the scoring record (2,164 points), which continues to grow.

Florence didn't really consider that type of success when he began his college career.

"I didn't even score a thousand points in high school," he said. "When I scored 500 points as a freshman, I thought if I could do that for four years ... I tried not to think about it too much because I didn't want to jinx it. My teammates told me how many I needed before the game [at Charlotte]. I'm glad that's over."

Florence, who will graduate in the spring, has accrued his honors and stats with a competitive drive, an unmatched work ethic and tremendous speed.

"I just thought he was a young man who wanted to compete at a high level," said Mercer coach Bob Hoffman, in his second season with the Bears. "He will find a way to win. He just competes so hard on every possession. He's a scorer who finds a way to get the ball in the basket."

It's his relentless work ethic that led to the growth.

"He wants to win at everything," Hoffman said. "He plays with great toughness. He's one of those guys who takes care of business, on and off the court. He plays the point, but he does whatever's needed. He's a scoring point guard. When he gets those opportunities, he finds his spots for his shot or gets someone else a shot."

And there's that speed. Hoffman, who has coached in the NBA Development League, knows fast when he sees it.

"He's so fast with the ball," Hoffman said, "and he attacks the basket. I think he's one of the fastest players with the ball in the country."

Hoffman thinks Florence has a chance at a NBA career.

"There have been all kinds of scouts from all the NBA teams," Hoffman said. "There's no doubt he will get to play for money somewhere."

The NBA is Florence's goal.

"It's my dream, and I have a shot of getting there," he said.

Because of his academic work, however, he does have other options.

"I'm majoring in communications with a business minor," Florence said. "I started out as a business major but realized I didn't want to do accounting down the road. I'd like to be involved in basketball, maybe represent people or train people."

Mercer's all-time scoring leaders

James Florence 2,164

Sam Mitchell 1,986

Tommy Mixon 1,801

Scott Emerson 1,753

Glenn Wilkes 1,738

Next for Mercer

Who: at Kennesaw State

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

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