July 14, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Barry Jaquawn “B.J.” Elder knows about coming close.
Last year, Elder’s team in Barile, Italy, made a charge into the playoffs and nearly reached the finals, sparked by his arrival in mid-season.
Back in 2004, Elder and a talented group of Yellow Jackets kept finding ways to win, doubling down until they reached the championship game of the NCAA Tournament, where they finally met their match in UConn.
Elder could live with coming close but not finishing in those arenas.
He could not live with coming close but not finishing when it came to achieving his degree in Business Management from Georgia Tech — he left to pursue a pro career only a couple of classes short.
“I wouldn’t say it was a promise I made to anyone. It’s just something I think you should do,” said Elder, who is finishing up two management electives and will graduate in August. “I was here for four years, played here four years and was really close when I got done. So for me NOT to finish would just be…I don’t want to use the word stupid…but what’s the point in doing it if you’re not going to finish it?”
Elder would have had plenty of good reasons to not finish up, especially this summer. He recently married longtime sweetheart Khristine, with whom they are the parents of two boys, Braden Jeremiah, who’s three, and Joshua Blake, who was born June 18th.
“I’m trying to fight for hours of sleep now, even minutes of sleep,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s all fun. I love it, every bit of it. Even waking up at 3:30 in the morning.”
Almost as in an act of defiance against these stacked odds, with Braden Jeremiah keeping him running, and Joshua Blake keeping him from sleeping, Elder insisted on this summer to finish his studies.
“I had two more classes that I had to get done. I’ve been coming back, but I took a break,” he said. “The last time I was back, I want to say ’08, but since then I got married, had a couple of kids, so a lot was going on, so I kind of took a break. But I always knew I was going to finish, no matter what. I decided this summer would be a good summer to come back and just get it done.”
Also on the horizon was continuing his professional career. Elder’s career has seen him make stops in Germany (2005-06), Austin, Texas with the NBA Development League’s Austin Toros (2006-07), Italy (’07-08 and ’08-09), Greece (’09-10) and back to Italy. Barring a better opportunity, he plans on heading overseas again this season. He is scheduled to report in late August, but is keeping his options open, something his contract allows.
A former ACC All-Freshman Team member, an Honorable Mention All-American (’03-04) a two-time All-ACC second-teamer (’03-04, ’04-05), and among the most prolific three-point shooters and scorers in Georgia Tech history, Elder turns 30 in September. He maintains a sense of humor when it comes to his age and he realizes that basketball won’t be forever.
That’s why he’s still enjoying what has been a great life experience — playing and living overseas, especially last year in Italy.
Elder couldn’t say he won a title — he did get some satisfaction out of knocking former Yellow Jacket teammate Mario West’s team out of the playoff race, beating them late in the year — but he could boast of having been to the mountaintop.
“Barile, it’s a small city, real small, about an hour from Rome,” he said. “It was the first time I actually stayed in a city that is on top of a mountain. You have to drive up the winding roads to get to the city. It was kind of cool.
“It’s been a good experience to see the differences in people and how people live and what people in other countries value as opposed to what we value here,” he added. “It’s kind of eye-opening. Some things that they do I think we should do more here. Some things we do I think they should adopt there. It’s interesting to see the different cultures and lifestyles of people.”
Elder similarly credits the European style of play, with its team-oriented approach and stress of fundamentals for making him a better player. He’s embraced the style, even if it’s less athletic than the American brand he knew growing up and still has aspirations of playing professionally.
“It’s a different style of play over there,” he said. “It’s slower because you don’t have the athletes that you have in the NBA. You’ll have 6-9 wing guys and all that but the game is a little bit different because of some of the rules. The way the rules are structured you actually have to be more skilled to be able to be effective.”
If there is a drawback to returning to Barile, it’s his being away from Atlanta and especially Khristine and the boys, who can’t come over as in years past because of airline restrictions on flying with a newborn.
Elder has made sure to enjoy every minute in Atlanta, whether working out with Georgia Tech Director of Olympic Sports Player Development Scott McDonald, finishing his electives or simply playing with his sons.
“I spend a lot more time with my three-year old because Khristine has to be with my other son,” he said. “Then, at night, she’s up with him more. He gets out of school, I’m the one in the backyard, running around, playing soccer and doing all that stuff, but it’s fun.”
Nothing else comes close.