By CASEY MUSE JR.
Sophomore big man Deion James has sparked the Pima Community College men’s basketball program this season with both his play on the court and his swagger off it.
No, not his “swag.” Swagger in the sense that James keeps things professional while remaining approachable and light-hearted.
The kid carries himself in a way that is unique but respectful. His personality and demeanor reflect those who raised him.
“My dad has been my biggest influence,” James said. “He has always been a coach on the sideline and throughout life. He has helped me a lot, not only in the game of basketball but in life as well.”
James developed an ealry love for basketball.
“I got my first basketball for Christmas when I was like 3 years old,” he said. “I carried it with me everywhere.”
A year later, James played his first competitive game. “At the age of 4, my dad put me in my first YMCA league,” he said. “I was a goofy kid who was just running around trying to play defense and steal the ball the whole time.”
James grew up in Vail and received his first opportunity to be a student-athlete at Rincon-Vista Middle School. “My middle school years really served as a transition into my high school years,” he said.
“My middle school coach ended up being my high school coach. I also knew a majority of my teammates from playing with them in middle school.”
The seamless transition helped James make the varsity team his freshman year at Empire High School.
“I actually played a good amount of time my freshman year,” he said. “I think I even started a couple games.” James became the face of the basketball program at Empire, which enjoyed a good reputation for academics and technology but had never really been known for its athletics.
“It was exciting for me to say that I helped a team and school achieve so many goals like that,” he said. “During my time there, the students were a lot more involved. The environment and energy were always great.”
James also helped Empire establish a respectful but heated cross-town rivalry with Cienega High School.
“All of us have bought into
what coach says, and that’s what
makes … us a family.” Teammate Jacob Anastasi
“All of the Vail kids grew up together,” he said. “We were the little brother of Vail and Cienega was the big brother. They had been there before and established their athletics programs while we were still new to being so relevant.”
The rivalry culminated during his senior year. “The two games we played against them were probably the two biggest basketball games ever played in Vail,” he said. “It was really great for the community.”
By graduation, James had become one of Tucson’s most sought-after Class of 2015 prospects. He commited to play basketball at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“That was a good experience overall,” he said. “No complaints.”
However, James left North Carolina A&T after his freshman season. “I just knew that to be the player I wanted to be, I had a better chance somewhere else,” he said.
PCC head coach Brian Peabody recruited James right away, and James accepted Peabody’s offer.
“I had a few options at that time but I really felt like he could help me the most and our team here had the best opportunity to win,” James said. “It was also great to come back home and be so close to my family again,” he said. “Everyone on the team was really cool and inviting to me as well.”
Teammate Jacob Anastasi called James a great player. “It’s nice having him out there because you know that he’s going to go grab 10 rebounds,” Anastasi said. “All of us have bought into what coach says and that’s what makes a program, that’s what makes us a family.”
James has proven to be an absolute monster at the community college level. He took on a leadership role early, and has averaged 20.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He also has a knack for picking up double-doubles, posting a team-high 17 double-doubles.
“It just comes to me,” he said. “It helps me to get into the flow of the game when I am active, crashing the glass and getting put-backs.”