Holding on to a tight lead over New Rochelle in the fourth quarter of the Slam Dunk Tournament title game, Stepinac coach Timothy Philp knew exactly who he wanted handling his offense.
“I was most comfortable with the ball in Josh James’ hands because he doesn’t turn the ball over,” Philp said of the senior, this week’s Con Edison Athlete of the Week. “His leadership and presence as a senior in terms of what he’s capable of doing on the court is what really separates him.”
After beating Mahopac in the opening round 66-44, the Crusaders held on in the title game 60-50. James took tournament MVP honors for his consistent, mistake-free play. He had 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in the championship game, the Crusaders’ second Slam Dunk title in three years.
James, who will play for Monmouth University in the fall on a full basketball scholarship, says he relishes high-pressure situations.
“I always remind myself to go about the game like I normally would,” said the White Plains resident. “At that time a lot of people get anxious. If you really want to win the game you have to tell yourself to stay calm and stay consistent with what you’re doing. The game will be over soon.”
His calm attitude and refusal to panic helped lead Stepinac to a 9-1 record heading into Friday night’s game against Cardinal Hayes. Philp credits James and his fellow seniors with setting the tone for the team’s success.
“Every year is different. You’re going to get leadership from your seniors but to what extent, every year is different,” Philp said. “This year in particular all of them, Josh James, Andrew Murray, James Decker, they’re great guys, they’re all blue-collar guys. They get their hands dirty. They want to work, want to win and don’t care about stats.”
Despite the unselfish play, James leads Stepinac in scoring, averaging 18 points per game. He also nets six rebounds, five assists and three steals per contest.
Away from varsity basketball James spends much of his time volunteering for youth clinics. He works with youngsters in Philp’s summer, Christmas and Easter basketball camps and referees youth basketball games at the Theodore Young Recreation Center in White Plains.
“I’m happy when I can go back to the Theodore Young. It’s the gym where I grew up learning the fundamentals of basketball,” James said. “It’s great because you get to see the future of Stepinac and tell them what they should expect coming into high school and the Catholic League.”
As far as choosing where to play at the next level, James admitted that the experience was stressful. In addition to Monmouth, he had scholarship offers from Iona, Manhattan, St. Peter’s and other Division I schools.
“It was difficult,” James said. “I chose Monmouth because I had a bond with the coaches. They’re also from New York. They’re really down to earth. I know I can learn a lot from them.”