Monarch Insider No. 16-Mr. Clutch-Darius James
Dec. 29, 2010
Monarch Insider #16: Mr. Clutch, Darius James
Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider
It's early in the second half of Old Dominion's far-tougher-than-expected, pre-Christmas tussle with Presbyterian College. The small school has responded to every run by the Monarchs, making clutch three-pointers, scoring opportunistic baskets. Coming out of a timeout, Coach Blaine Taylor goes to a player he knows will rise to the occasion. Senior point guard Darius James passes the ball to Keyon Carter at the top of the key, and fakes a drive past him to the basket. With his defender's back turned, James floats sideways out to the three-point line, and takes the return pass from Carter.
Three-point dagger. ODU by eight. The Monarchs would go on to win by nine, with James scoring a season-high 14 points..
It's the exact same shot James hit against William and Mary to open the CAA Championship game last year. And against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament, to give ODU a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"When that play is called, I get a certain feeling in my body. I just love it," James said. "Coach knows it's my favorite play. I had just hit one shot, and being the brilliant man that Coach is, he called that play."
Laughing heartily at the over-the-top flattery, Taylor said it's fun to see the excitement in the players when their number is called in the huddle.
"Darius has, over time, had the ability to make big shots," Taylor said. "All of our guys take their turns responding. We call certain plays, and it's fun to see kids' eyes light up, and they say, `Hey, I get a chance to get some chips and go to the casino today.'"
There are online message boards for fans of ODU basketball, where strong opinions are exchanged freely.
In the two years I've closely followed the Monarchs, a common opinion expressed is that the team could do better at point guard than James.
Do you know who doesn't share that opinion? Blaine Taylor. During his radio show two weeks ago, Taylor launched into a passionate defense of his three-year starting point guard. I asked him about that.
"I like guys who are smart. I call him the Snake out of affection, but also one of effectiveness. In one respect, it gives him an image of what he can be, but also what my belief is in his ability," Taylor said.
"We actually got a little bit distracted early this year, letting Darius think for us, because he's such a smart player. He's an important ingredient to our leadership, to our day-to-day activities, and when we go play a game." The ODU basketball community is small enough that James knows there are some fans who'd like to see a change at the point. Ask him how much he cares.
"I know they talk about me, they talk about my teammates," he said. "As long as we know the people who are in our locker room, are there for us when we lose a game, or aren't doing that well. Or there at 6 in the morning running with us. Those are the people I care about, what they say and what they think about me. As far as people coming out to the games, I'm out there having fun. They can say what they want. It doesn't bother me."
As much as James lives and dies with each game (no one hates to lose on the Monarchs more than he and co-captain Ben Finney), basketball is only one part of his busy college life.
James will finish his undergraduate degree in counseling this year, and has already committed to start his master's in higher education next fall.
"I'm just thankful for everything that I've gotten. For me being the youngest of three boys, I had two older brothers who were just as good players as me, but they didn't get the opportunities I've had," James said.
"Sometimes you might think things aren't going your way, but then you think that there are a lot of people who don't get to do what we do. Being out there on the court, on TV, going to school for free. How much people would love to trade places with us. How much you're making your family proud being out there, and graduating too."
Talk to anyone around the basketball program and it's clear the respect James commands among his teammates, from his coaches. I asked James about his bond with Taylor, and he smiled.
"We're different, but we're very similar at times. He's smart, and he has a funny way of getting things off his chest. I'm the same, sometimes," he said.
"That's why he'll say something, and I'll be the only person in the gym to catch it. I'll laugh and he'll smile." Part of it is the point guard thing, the position Taylor also played at the University of Montana. "You've got to be an extension of the coach out on the court. Got to know every play from every position," James said. "I basically have to be him on the court. That's why I feel I can be successful in this program."
James' success at ODU has far exceeded the basketball court as well. An excellent student, James will graduate in May, and hopes to do an internship in higher education in Washington, D.C. next summer. While suiting up for the Monarchs, he's also worked numerous summer camps, worked as an intern with academic adviser April Brecht, and tried to soak up as much of the university experience as possible.
When he enters the working world, either on this campus or at another school, James knows that he has one thing he can say without reservation in every job interview. "I can tell people I've already worked for a crazy boss. I can handle anything."
Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in public relations at Old Dominion University, writes Monarch Basketball Insider. To see other stories, please see the Monarch Insider website, at http://www.odusports.com/ot/monarch-insider.html. If you would like to share your thoughts about ODU basketball, or have a story you'd like to see Brendan write, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.