The basketball fan in Sara James is ecstatic.
She's in the Final Four with Stanford this weekend in Denver, bracing for the best player to hit women's college basketball in the past four years.
The Cardinal takes on Baylor's 6-foot-8 star, Brittney Griner, and the unbeaten Lady Bears on Sunday in a national semifinal, and that's where the competitive side of Sara James perks up. James wants to play and have an impact on the game, as she did so often at Oak Ridge High School.
But the learning curve on the Farm has been steep and humbling.
James has gone from All-America prep to end-of-the-bench reserve for the 35-1 Cardinal. The 5-foot-10 sophomore guard has played in 30 games for Stanford and averaged seven minutes, 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds.
"It's definitely frustrating for any player in this situation from playing every minute of every game in high school to barely playing," James said by phone Thursday.
"I've learned about patience. I've had to find other ways to contribute, recognizing situations where I can help in practice, supporting my teammates during games and being ready when I do play," she added.
Still, James ignores even the slightest temptation of a transfer. Stanford, she says, is too good to pass up. When not on the basketball court, James is studying human biology with aspirations of medical school or nursing.
"You have those thoughts of leaving, but you just can't compare any program to this program," James said. "Whether I'm off the bench or a starter, it's a great experience. The players are suddenly my best friends. And no other education can compare to Stanford. But I do miss playing a lot."
Two years ago last weekend, James capped her high school career by leading Oak Ridge to one of the greatest upsets in CIF state championship girls basketball history, over nationally ranked No. 2 Long Beach Poly in the Division I game.
James, The Bee's 2009 Player of the Year, still embraces her prep title ring, just as she does the second Final Four ring that was awarded to her last weekend.
"The biggest thing for me is knowing it's not about me," James said. "You don't want your first reaction to be getting down and selfish 'I'm not playing, blah, blah, blah.' It's about attitude."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said she appreciates the attitude of all her players, from the college stars to the former prep stars. When VanDerveer entered the Stanford locker room before the first NCAA Tournament practice, she sat next to James and asked, "You excited, Sara?"
James blurted an emphatic "Yes!"
Added VanDerveer later about the bench in general to Stanford media: "Everyone's involved, and everyone has a role. We need all of them involved."
Even while spending most of her first two years at Stanford on the bench, James still gets the same support from her parents as she did in high school. Mike and Kelly James attend most of their daughter's games.
"I often feel bad for them," James said. "They come to every game, no matter what. I tell them, 'You don't need to come. I may not play.' They still come, still support me. They know how hard I work, and they're friends with the parents of other players. It's a family thing here, and I still feel really lucky to be here."
Brittany Shine, The Bee's 2010 Player of the Year from Sacramento High, said she will transfer from the University of Florida destination unknown.
The sophomore guard said she misses her family and wants to play on the West Coast, adding, "It's a positive move."
Brendan Lane, The Bee's 2009 Player of the Year from Rocklin, announced that he will transfer from UCLA, a program rocked by infighting and disciplinary woes. Lane will graduate this spring but has one year of eligibility remaining. He expects to transfer to a mid-major program and pursue a master's degree.
Darius Nelson, The Bee's 2011 Player of the Year from Sheldon, is enrolled at Cal State Fullerton after his transfer from UTEP.
Nelson's teammate at Sheldon, Ramon Eaton, will transfer from Pepperdine after the spring semester, though he isn't sure where.