In Frank Capra's classic 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life," Jimmy Stewart played a down-on-his-luck character named George Bailey, who sets out to see what the world would be like without him and learns how much of a difference he makes.

However, a New York Nationals basketball game without George Bailey, who played for them in 2003-04, wouldn't be much different from any other Nationals game.

They'd still get blown out.

The Nationals, perhaps better known as the Harlem Globetrotters' whipping boys, have never beaten the Trotters, making the 6-foot-9 Bailey a professional loser for the better part of a year.

But Bailey never really looked at himself that way. And on Monday, he will rebound from the loser label once and for all when he receives a diploma from Peirce College in Center City. He'll have a bachelor's degree in business administration, with a dual major in accounting and management.

And like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," Bailey's impact won't go unrecognized. He'll be presented with Peirce's Outstanding Student Award for his classroom success and the leadership he displayed.

Bailey, 28, a Philly native, played high school ball under coach Tom Daugherty at St. John Neumann High in 1998. At the time, Daily News sportswriter Ted Silary gave this assessment of Bailey, a forward: "Good shot-blocker, runs floor, surprisingly sturdy despite thin build."

From Neumann, Bailey made the leap to Division 1 college basketball at Norfolk State University, where he played on the varsity team for a year.

Following that brief stint, Bailey found a niche at Lock Haven University in Clinton County, Pa., where he played for two years and led all of Division 2 in shot-blocking in 2001-02.

Then came Bailey's season with the hopeless Nationals, for whom he laced up his sneakers every night for laughs and trickery at the hands of the Globetrotters.

"[Losing] was a bad feeling because I'm a very competitive person," Bailey said. "That's one of the reasons I stopped doing it. I couldn't take it."

Before nightmares of the Trotters running weaves to the tune of "Sweet Georgia Brown" could creep into his sleep, Bailey left the Nationals to pursue a real hoops career.

"I gave myself a two-year window, where if I didn't catch on [with a professional team], I was going to go back to school to get my bachelor's degree," Bailey said.

He tried out for teams in a handful of leagues across the country, but never caught on.

Basketball's loss was Peirce College's gain.

Sticking to his time frame, Bailey gave up the dream and went back to school. He made the most of his three years at Peirce, which caters mostly to working adults by offering accelerated course schedules.

He was the Peirce chapter president of the Delta Mu Delta honor society, a member of the Alpha Chi Epsilon honor society, and president of Peirce's Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program - most of it while working at an area Circuit City store.

Marie Gould, who chairs the business program at Peirce, anticipates great things from Bailey, who she said has left his mark on Peirce.

"Everyone talks about George," said Gould, who got to know Bailey through the SIFE program, which aims to teach high school students about the capital markets. "He doesn't try to draw attention to himself, but you're still drawn to him."

Bailey didn't wait until graduation to move on with his wonderful life. Last Monday, he started a job as a revenue agent with the IRS. He said he hopes to get his CPA certification soon and start a firm in a few years.