The 6-foot-7 forward would routinely shirk workout time to play video games."He was getting better on an animated court," Notre Dame coach Ryan Hurd said.But since the initial transition period, Southerland, who will play at Syracuse starting next fall, has changed. He's put on 20 pounds of muscle to a lithe frame; his academics have improved; and the shy kid from Floral Park who goes by the nickname Big Baby has become the team clown."James is the funniest guy on the team," his Louisville-bound teammate Terrence Jennings said after Notre Dame beat Blair Academy, 77-67, in the Big Apple Basketball High School Invitational Monday at Baruch College. "He's just a big goof ball. He cracks jokes all the time, keeps the team at ease."Hurd credits two of his player with breaking Southerland out of his shell: Sean Crawford and Melquan Bolding. Crawford, a Laurelton native, was Southerland's teammate for a season at Cardozo and Bolding is a Westchester native. Hurd thinks the two New York metropolitan area players helped shape who Southerland is now off the court and on. The pair push Southerland in practice all the time."At our level, unfortunately, raw ability isn't good enough," Hurd said.Southerland had plenty of that when he played at Cardozo. He was a rare PSAL player: tall enough to play in the post, but his game was more suited for the perimeter. Southerland can, as Jennings aptly put it, "shoot the hell out of the ball." But he certainly needed to put on weight to play in the Big East and school was always a struggle. He missed all but two games his freshman season due to academic ineligibility.To Southerland, Notre Dame is exactly what he needed. He went from one of the most overcrowded schools in New York City to a place with small class sizes, where he can get the individual attention from teachers that he needs.Plus, his game has only improved. He can bang down low better with the added size and he had four blocked shots and six rebounds in only 18 minutes against Blair."I had to do it, being on my own, learning my responsibilities," Southerland said. "Getting away let me experience being with other people...Eventually people are gonna have to leave the house anyway."Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@
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