A player who is long overdue for a mention in this column, Shawn James
is on pace to accomplish an extremely impressive feat: shattering the all-time NCAA single-season shot-blocking record, in just his 2nd year in college. The record (6.4 blocks per game) is currently held by Golden State Warriors big man Adonal Foyle
, who accomplished the feat while playing in a much weaker Patriot league conference playing for Colgate. Foyle blocked 180 shots in 28 games in 1997, which helped him become the 8th overall draft pick after his junior year just a few months later. He also averaged 24.4 points per game and 13.1 rebounds that year
James currently sits at 176 blocks in 27 games, with one regular season game remaining, the CAA conference tournament, and a likely postseason bid to either the NIT or NCAA tournament.
James, a native of Guiana in the West Indies, plays for Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association, widely considered the best mid-major conference in America after the Missouri Valley and a likely multi-bid league for the NCAA tournament. He plays alongside Jose Juan Barea
, easily one of the five best NCAA point guards in the country and a legit NBA draft prospect in his own right. James is a threat to put up a triple-double on any given night, already recording 4 in his first two seasons.
For James its not so much the incredible shot-blocking numbers he puts up, but the way he does it in a completely different style than anyone else among the other top shot-blockers in the country that makes it so remarkable. James blocks shots with his mind just as much as he does with his arms. He anticipates and times his jump beautifully, getting high in the air with his pterodactyl-like arms outstretched, tapping the ball to himself or a teammate to almost always keeping the ball in-bounds, and just intimidating and rejecting shot attempts from angles that most players have never had their shot blocked before thanks to his incredible reach. James could end up challenging David Robinson
s record for blocks in a single game by the time he is done at Northeastern; the Admiral from Navy had 14 blocks in 1986, as did Shawn Bradley
with BYU in 1990 and Loren Woods
with Arizona in 2000. James has reached double-digits in blocked shots five times this season and twice in a matter of 8 days last week, rejecting James Madison 11 times and then going to Delaware and blocking 10. James goes after anything and everything that comes around the hoop, being incredibly active in his will to make plays, always being around the ball and showing outstanding instincts in the process.
Offensively, James is showing both the ability and the willingness to move his game out to the perimeter to more of a small forwards role. He will probably never be a full-time small forward, but the added versatility he is showing makes him all the more intriguing. He likes to operate in the high post, where he shows decent passing ability and an all-around nice feel for the game considering his relative lack of basketball experience. Hes unselfish and understands the team concept, clearly wanting to do a little bit more for his team than he is currently able to, but usually realizing that he plays with an incredibly dominant player in Barea and deferring to him when immediate opportunities to score arent presented to him.
Hes still finding ways to improve game by game, though, expanding his range out to the 3-point line this season (shooting 20 of 46 on the year or 43.5%), knocking down shots when he has time to set his feet, and even putting the ball on the floor to take advantage of the quickness advantage he has over the big men he is always guarded by.
In the post, James lacks the strength and bulk to make his presence felt with his back to the basket game, besides a raw looking jump-hook that he will bust out on once in a while. Most of his points come off offensive rebounds and in transition, as well as from the newfound range on his jump shot that hes been showing more and more lately. His raw athleticism alone allows him to outquick and outjump most of his opponents, and hell often go well outside his area to come up with a long rebound. When he gets to the free throw line, he knocks down his shots at a very impressive 80% clip.
To truly become a legit 1st round prospect for 2007 or 2008 (if he isnt one already), James will have to put some serious weight on his skinny frame. He came into Northeastern listed at a paltry 195 pounds, but definitely looks a bit bulkier than that already. His lack of lower body strength makes it tough for him to establish and hold a spot on the block, which comes to play in his inability to post up his man, hold on to rebounds when facing fierce opposition, or keep his man out of the paint defensively.
Whats amazing about this story is that James has only been playing organized basketball for four years now; one in high school, one in prep school and two in college, despite already being 22 years old. Entering high school, James was only a measly 5 foot 7 before hitting an incredible growth spurt that eventually saw him grow 14 inches by the time he was 18. In spite of his age, he seems to be making huge strides in his game every time we get to see him, showing new things all the time and most importantly continuing to show a great feel for the game considering his lack of experience and an even better passion and attitude around his teammates. Best of all, all anyone in the Northeastern program ever wants to talk about is not what an excellent player Shawn James
is developing into, but the type of person he is off the court that really makes him so special.
If James and his superstar teammate Barea can find a way to click at the same time for a matter of just few days in the CAA conference tournament, there might not be a team that can be able to stop them from reaching the NCAA tournament. If that happens, you might actually start hearing his name in the national media once or twice for a change.